Some of the greatest albums ever made are about heartbreak. It’s one thing to devote a song to a breakup, but it’s a whole other thing to base an entire album around it. When you have just too many emotions to fit into a single song, it’s time to make a full length release to get it off your chest. If you need an album to help you get over a breakup, these are the ones that will speak to you.
Back to Black – Amy Winehouse
Love never came more torrid than it appears on Back to Black. Apart from the album’s bookends, opener/unfortunate signature song “Rehab” and the comical closing ode to weed “Addicted”, Back to Black is a how-to guide on grieving and heartbreak: despair in the title track, flippancy in “He Can Only Hold Her”, resignation in “Love is a Losing Game”, potential understanding in “Just Friends”, and finally moving on in “Tears Dry on Their Own”. At the center of it all is Winehouse’s self-aware “You Know I’m No Good”, which sets the stage for why all this heartache had to happen in the first place. “I cheated myself like I knew I would/I told you I was trouble.”
Hot Fuss – The Killers
Hot Fuss isn’t explicitly a breakup album, but it has all the emotions that follow getting your heart ripped out, so it fits the mood pretty well. Of course there’s jealousy in “Mr. Brightside”, but there’s also unrequited love in “Andy, You’re a Star”, yearning for better days in “Smile Like You Mean It”, desperation in “All These Things That I’ve Done” and “Change Your Mind”, obsession in “Somebody Told Me”, and even violence on “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine” and “Midnight Show”. By the time you reach the end, you’ll have to decide whether Brandon Flowers is being genuine when he tells you everything will be alright.
Never Not Never Not Never Never Not – Rosie Tucker
Criminally underrated and virtually unknown, Rosie Tucker is one of the best songwriters currently making music. Never Not Never Not Never Not is all about relationships, but mostly the fractured and thoroughly kicked around kind. “Every kiss is a skydive… and the ground is coming up fast.” “We separate even though we’ve got sparks.” “I loved you plenty, like I tried to love the city, but my favorite’s still the glittering from far away.” “My canopy bird insists that she don’t need to flee, but a cage by any other name amounts to the same thing.” The whole album is filled with these kinds of lines, and they read like poetry when your heart aches in the wake of a breakup.
Here, My Dear – Marvin Gaye
In the first few seconds, Gaye literally dedicates the entire album to his estranged ex-wife, says he has no regrets, and then proceeds to spend an hour getting extremely personal on a global stage. Pro tip: don’t leave a songwriter like Marvin Gaye if you don’t want your dirty laundry being exposed for all to hear. Allmusic called it “the sound of divorce on record.” I like to see it as a relationship coming full circle. Yes, there’s plenty of anger, plenty of pettiness, but also love, regret, admissions of fault, and even still-burning passion among the embers. Gaye’s records sound like they come pouring right out of his heart: he’s socially conscious on What’s Going On, depressed on In Our Lifetime?, and horny on… pretty much everything else, but especially on Let’s Get It On. But on Here, My Dear, it’s pure heartbreak, in all its pain and catharsis.
You Are My Sunshine – Copeland
Uncertainty is no way to go through life, but it never sounded as bold and beautiful as it does on Copeland’s You Are My Sunshine. Yes, the title is ironic, which first becomes apparent when you look at song titles like “The Grey Man”, “Strange and Unprepared”, and “What Do I Know?” An emotional song cycle that covers everything from personal failings to falling in and out of love, there’s not a single stone left unturned by the time the 10 minute finale “Not So Tough Found Out” beeps and buzzes its way into your subconscious. As a lament, it’s powerful. As an album closer, it’s perfect.
Blood on the Tracks – Bob Dylan
I’d put my money on this being the most famous breakup album of all time. When your own famous kid says that this is the sound of you and his mother arguing, it must be pretty heavy shit. But if you’re expecting straightforward admissions of heartache from Bob Dylan, you’ve obviously never listened to his music. What we get instead are stories: long, winding stories with tons of characters and bizarre happenings, punctuated by punch lines and heartbreaking turns. That’s what “Tangled Up in Blue” does for seven verses, as does “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” in about half the time. For his part, Dylan has claimed that Blood on the Tracks has nothing to do with his failing marriage, instead being inspired by the works of Anton Chekhov, which is about the most oblique and ridiculous excuse I could think of. In other words, it’s perfectly Dylanesque.
21 – Adele
Who hurt Adele? Whoever decided to break her heart is a ballsy motherfucker, because the resulting album does not paint him in a particularly favorable light. He comes off as the kind of cold bastard who laughs at crippled children and kills kittens for sport. A little overdramatic? So is 21, but it’s all the better because of it. Adele opens the album with one hell of a mission statement: “There’s a fire starting in my heart, reaching a fever pitch and it’s bringing me out of the dark.” That’s a bit of an understatement. The album is so vitriolic and dismissive of this poor sap that the eventual cover of The Cure’s “Lovesong” near the closing minutes can’t help but come off as ironic. Finally, after nearly 45 minutes of lyrical beating, Adele musters enough pity to say she wishes him the best. This pathetic slag had no idea what was coming.
A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead
Grief isn’t exactly a tangible thing. You can’t hold it. You can’t put it in a box or examine it. You can try to express it, but you can never fully understand it. Instead, it just kind of floats in the air, hanging over whatever you try to do to get away from it. I’ve listened to A Moon Shaped Pool at least a dozen times, read all the lyrics, dissected it the best I can, and it’s still a bit of an enigma to me. That’s Radiohead for you. They’re the band that will purposefully obscure the vocal lines or arrange the tracks in alphabetical order as if to say “don’t look for any meaning here”. Of course, there is meaning to be found, but the less explicit it is, the deeper it can connect. The ways you deal with grief are usually as abstruse as grief itself. That’s what I’ve learned from A Moon Shaped Pool.
You Can’t Stay Here – Iron Chic
I go back and forth on whether You Can’t Stay Here is about romantic heartbreak or death. Of course, like all great art, it can hold multiple meanings. It can be about both. Lead singer Jason Lubrano’s divorce could inform the lyrics just as much as former guitarist Rob McAllister’s death might have. Either way, there’s a strange resilience to the music. It’s like the same catharsis that comes from screaming your lungs out in your car. “It’s hard to be a human being. How can we, when we’re not quite sure what being human means?” You’ll find statements like that all over You Can’t Stay Here, and if your idea of getting over a breakup includes blasting your feelings as loud as possible, this album is a good place to start.
Blue – Joni Mitchell
“All romantics meet the same fate someday: cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark cafe.” Kinda bleak, huh?. Blue is the kind of album that you put on and just cry your eyes out to. It’s stark in composition and arrangement, but even more so in it’s lyrics: “River” and its desire to leave everything behind, “Little Green” and its elegy for a child you never got to see grow up, “Blue” and its comfort with wallowing in misery, and finally “The Last Time I Saw Richard”, with its depressing look at the reality of broken dreams. If the loss of your significant other feels like a part of you died, you should listen to Blue. At best it helps you find a way back to happiness, but the least it does is understand how you feel. That’s what the best breakup albums do: empathize with you through music.