A negative emotional state, when channelled, can lead to out-of-this-world musical achievements. Just think of the singles ‘Nothing Compares 2U‘ by Sinead O’Connor (and actually written by Prince), ‘Un-break my Heart‘ by Toni Braxton, Bon Iver’s ridiculously sad cover of Bonnie Raitt’s ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’, or even the upbeat ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ by Taylor Swift. It seems that inspiration can bubble from the depths of heartbreak, captivating us all with the universal appeal of something everybody can relate to.
So we all know a song or three that’ll make us gloomy, but what about the best breakup albums? To compile a whole collection based on messy, turbulent feelings is an impressive achievement, even if it can make for a daunting listen: lend your ear with caution! Here is an assortment of the best breakup albums – read Part II here.
Adele – 21 (2011): This album signified Adele’s return to the charts three years after her debut album, ‘19’, was released to positive reviews. Her second studio album, ‘21’ was inspired by the disintegration of her relationship, spawning powerful singles such as ‘Rolling in the Deep’ and ‘Someone Like You’. ‘21’ rocketed the young musician into international stardom and is the UK’s bestselling album of the 21st century.
Pete Fij & Terry Bickers – ‘Broken Heart Surgery’ (2014): Edging out of musical dormancy, this very recent release from the duo has been a decade in the making and the finished result is a work of exquisitely melancholic, stripped-down songwriting. Pete Fij, of British alternative bands Adorable and Polak fame, pens remarkable lyrics while Bickers, best known as a member of the rock bands The House of Love and Levitation, employs intricate acoustic guitar to embellish Fij’s tracks. The title of this album reveals its mournful subject, the product of Fij’s split with his then-partner. Other favourites include the almost uplifting (well for a break up album) Sound of Love and the John Barry-esque Paralell Girl.
Lykke Li – ‘I Never Learn’ (2014): After experiencing what Li has described has ‘the biggest breakup of her life’, she fled to Los Angeles and channelled her emotion to eventually produce this record, although that wasn’t her original intention. Her third studio album, it’s a compelling listen from the Swede that emanates melancholy and wistfulness.
Frightened Rabbit – ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’ (2008): This is the second studio album from the Scottish indie rock band, and its confessional style has received much positive praise. Highlights include ‘The Modern Leper’, which energetically traces the pain of a breakup through the metaphor of lost limbs, and the waltzing, instrumentally layered track ‘Good Arms vs. Bad Arms’. Songwriter Scott Hutchison’s Scottish accent remains pleasingly audible throughout the album.
The Beatles – Abbey Road (1969): With an oft-disputed chronological position as the final Beatles album, ‘Abbey Road’ is not a breakup album in the conventional sense but contains all the signs of a band dissolving into freefall. Tensions were running high between band members over various financial and legal disputes, and despite the musical consistency between songs, it feels disjointed and unfinished. The impending breakdown of band relations is captured in perfect musical discord, with tracks like the fragmented ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’, the drag of emotional Beatles-baggage in ‘Carry That Weight’ and the obvious farewell finale ‘The End’.
Coldplay – ‘Ghost Stories’ (2014): Coldplay frontman Chris Martin announced a ‘conscious uncoupling’ from his wife Gwyneth Paltrow earlier this year, and ‘Ghost Stories’, the band’s sixth studio album, is the aptly haunting result. Although it’s very much a concept album, there’s a standout song in ‘Another’s Arms’ – especially if you listen to live versions of it, where the piano is more prominent. Fans have been disappointed by the absence of obvious hits, but as its title suggests, this album tells a story: its tracks are not designed to be heard in isolation.