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10 Greatest Breakup Albums of All Time

It may hurt now, but at least you aren't in Fleetwood Mac.
It may hurt now, but at least you aren't in Fleetwood Mac.

Allow us to bring a heavy hammer to your post-Valentine's Day romantic bliss: Even if you can get past your partner's baggage and commit to settling down, the national divorce rate is floating right around 50 percent. The harsh reality is that your brand-new and exciting relationship probably isn't going work out. Don't get us wrong, we're rooting for you. We're just asking you to be realistic as you find yourself questioning whether you really can deal with all your partner's eccentricities (hope they're all kinds of adorable).

Is it any coincidence that Warner Bros. dropped a three-disc deluxe edition of Fleetwood Mac's cocaine-and-bad-romance classic Rumours just in time for February? The record is one of the best at grappling with lost love and the resulting scorn (things you might be feeling after that Valentine's Day SNAFU). Listening to terse outtakes of "Go Your Own Way" got us thinking about breakup records -- the ones we reach for when it gets tough.

Whether you recently ended a relationship or you still find yourself scorned by an old flame, take solace in the following 10 masterfully crafted breakup albums. It's no coincidence that in most cases, these albums are among the following artists' best work. So whether you're feeling sad and lonely or bitter and angry, you're bound to find something you can relate to.

10. Adele, 21

Adele's breakthrough might sound a little overplayed right now, but give it a few years: This one's a stone-cold classic, and Adele's sorrows made her a superstar. 21 covers the whole range of emotions that follow a breakup/ "Rolling in the Deep" is her strident kiss-off letter. "Rumour Has It" embodies the pain of a cheating lover (the deception is once again echoed in "Set Fire to the Rain"). Then there's "Someone Like You," which is often misconstrued as a love song, when it's really about the English singer finding the strength to move on. If it sounds like the record couldn't get any more dour, Adele reaches back into rock 'n' roll's most "bummer dude" catalog, covering The Cure's "Lovesong" and reading the song with sense of downcast resignation over a bossa nova shuffle.

9. Afghan Whigs, Gentlemen

Greg Dulli has done some incredible work with both Afghan Whigs and The Twilight Singers, but the Whig's 1993 record Gentlemen is arguably the band's best work, due in no part to its utterly scathing nature. Just listen to "Be Sweet," which is anything but nice: "Ladies, let me tell you about myself. I got a dick for a brain and my brain is gonna sell my ass to you." The rest of the album follows a similar theme, making it rocky listening if your man cheated on you. Hell, it's probably not the album to listen to if you're feeling remotely guilty (about anything). But through it all, it seems that no one can top Dulli's sins. The real question is whether he feels any remorse as he sings, "Tonight I go to hell for what I've done to you" in "Debonair." Something about the anguish suggests yes, unless he's just that good an actor.  

8. Amy Winehouse, Back to Black

Just like a bad breakup jump-started Adele's career, a breakup album helped build English songstress Amy Winehouse's career. In an interview with The Sun, she said "Back To Black is when you've finished a relationship and you go back to what's comfortable for you. My ex went back to his girlfriend and I went back to drinking and dark times." That certainly makes sense in the context of "Rehab" and the vicious nature of "You Know I'm No Good." "Upstairs in bed with my ex-boy, he's in a place but I can't get joy." Ouch.

7. Beck, Sea Change

Wow, who would have expected the follow-up to 1999's Prince-fied and funky Midnite Vultures to be so beautiful and heartfelt? Sea Change, with its sweeping strings, overcast atmosphere, and reverb-drenched vocals is an album about transformations, right down to its title. Beck was inspired to write the album after his fiancée ended their nine-year relationship. While that sucks for Beck, songs like "Lost Cause" and the slyly hopeful "Golden Age" are tender and absolutely gorgeous.  

6. Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks

Even if Dylan himself is quick to dismiss the idea, Blood on the Tracks is a classic breakup album. Ever the master of obfuscation, Dylan denies that it's autobiographical, stating that the record isn't about his divorce -- it was inspired by the writings of Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov's works. At any rate, in a few hundred years, "Tangled Up In Blue" and "Simple Twist of Fate" are bound to be as renowned as "Chekhov's gun." Plus, the Ruskie never wrote "If You See Her, Say Hello."

5. Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago

Songwriter Justin Vernon's was doing okay when a breakup and a bad case of mono sent him into the woods, where he holed up in a cabin for three months after his breakup to write this masterpiece. Bon Iver's bio sums it up pretty well: "All of his personal trouble, lack of perspective, heartache, longing, love, loss and guilt that had been stockpiled over the course of the past six years was suddenly purged into the form of song." In the album's title track, Vernon emotes "Go find another lover to string along with all your lies, you're still very lovable." We'd say "poor guy" if the record didn't launch him all the way to the Grammys, Kanye West collaborations, and Katy Perry knowing who he is.  

4. Spiritualized, Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space

You'd think the precedents set down by Fleetwood Mac and the Mamas and the Papas would have taught Spiritualized vocalist/guitarist Jason Pierce (J. Spaceman himself) that dating band members can equal tragedy. Of course, maybe he knew it could equal great art, too. Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space came after his relationship with keyboardist Kate Radley ended after he found out she married The Verve's Richard Ashcroft in secret. Over the course of the record, Pierce numbs his feelings through drug use, though feelings of bitterness still permeate the spaced-out album. "But I don't care 'bout you and I've got nothing to do, feel the warmth of the air that I breathe, even freer than DMT," he sings in the deceptively named "I Think I'm in Love," though he's mostly just hungry, lonely, and definitely not listening anymore.

3. The Good Life, Album of the Year

Songwriter Tim Kasher has a knack for breakup songs, whether it's the scathing truths of Cursive's Domestica or his brutally honest solo album, The Game of Monogamy. Between those musical ventures, he had The Good Life, which released the brilliant 12-track Album of the Year, which chronicles a relationship gone sour month by month. Things seem promising as he meets the woman while vomiting in the ladies' room in "Album of the Year," but things quickly go south as she meets someone else. The perspective changes in the heartbreaking "Inmates": "Did you act out as a child? Were you always crying wolf? Attention starved, you tried too hard just to get someone to look. Now you're the wolf in second-hand clothing, I'm the sheep in a pleated skirt."  

2. Marvin Gaye, Here My Dear

Two years after the sensual Let's Get it On was released, Gaye's wife Anna Gordy filed for divorce. Gaye's extravagant lifestyle prevented him from paying alimony, so his attorney proposed that he gave half of the royalties from his next project to Gordy. Gaye considered making a horrible record, but instead wrote Here My Dear, which has been described as "the sound of divorce on record." The lyrics read like tormented scrawls from a diary entry. "If you ever loved me with all of your heart, you'd never take a million dollars to part," he emotes in "When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You." The songs go through all stages of a breakup, from doubts in "Anna's Song," anger issues ("Anger") and agony ("Sparrow").

1. Fleetwood Mac, Rumors

Like Blood on the Tracks, Rumours remains one of the greatest breakup albums of all time. Couple-swapping, loads of coke, and seething jealously bled into the songs. The McVies divorced, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks fought, and drummer Mick Fleetwood also found out that his wife, Jenny Boyd, was cheating on him, All in all, it was bad news. The album chronicles relationships gone sour from all sorts of perspectives, from Nicks' battered optimism in "Dreams" and Buckingham's snide, yet brilliant "Go Your Own Way." Christine McVie tries to brighten spirits with her jaunty "You Make Loving Fun," but the song's placement, between the crushing "The Chain" and "I Don't Want to Know" suggests that everyone knew the soft rock classic would go down with a grain of salt.

See also:

-10 Greatest Love Songs (That Aren't Actually Love Songs) -10 Greatest TV Themes of All Time


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