The 10 Best Breakup Albums of All Time

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If you’re in any way a regular Flavorwire reader, you’ll probably have noticed that we’ve been quietly beside ourselves for several months now at the prospect of a new Spiritualized album. Sweet Heart Sweet Light is finally here, but we’ve spent the intervening weeks listening to a whole lot of the band’s back catalog — including, of course, their 1997 classic Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space. Aside from being one of our favorite albums ever, Ladies and Gentlemen… is one of the best breakup records you’ll ever hear, its conception coinciding with Spiritualized main man Jason Pierce parting ways with keyboard player Kate Radley. Having the record on constant rotation led us to wallowing in some of our other favorite breakup albums — so here are ten of the best.

Spiritualized — Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space

Jason Pierce’s enduring masterpiece, Ladies and Gentlemen… unfolds like a 70-minute journey through the emotional destruction wrought by a bad breakup, starting with the plaintive lyrical appeal of the title track (“All I want in life’s a little bit of love,” he sings, “to take the pain away”) and moving through self-destructive anger (“Come Together”), despair (“Stay With Me”), numbness (“Home of the Brave”), and eventually sliding away into the white noise self-immolation of “Cop Shoot Cop.”

Blur — 13

There are plenty of parallels between 13 and Ladies and Gentlemen… — they’re separated by barely two years, they catalog disintegrating musical relationships, and there’s also the fact that the shadow of heroin addiction looms large over both records. If anything, 13 is even more forlorn than Spiritualized’s magnum opus — “No Distance Left to Run” has to be one of the most heartbreakingly candid breakup songs ever recorded.

Marvin Gaye — Here, My Dear

We covered the remarkable story of Here, My Dear when we looked at the history of contractual obligation albums last year — basically, the story goes that as Marvin Gaye couldn’t afford to pay alimony to his ex-wife, and thus ended up striking a deal with his record company boss (who also happened to be the brother of said ex-wife) that he’d pay her half the royalties from his next album. Gaye tried to sabotage the deal by turning in an album that no one would buy — instead, he produced an all-time classic of wounded bitterness.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds — The Boatman’s Call

The Boatman’s Call was quite the creative left turn for Nick Cave, especially since it followed the riotous Murder Ballads. The album’s stately, somber beauty corresponded to its subject matter, which addressed the aftermath of a failed love affair (or possibly two, depending on who you believe.) The album oscillates between fatalism (“People Ain’t No Good,” “Where Do We Go But Nowhere?”) and a bruised romanticism (“Into My Arms,” “Brompton Oratory”). The Boatman’s Call heralded Cave’s piano ballad phase, and although he spent the best part of a decade and several albums working on the art of the love song, he never really surpassed this record.

Beck — Sea Change

It may say something about our naturally melancholy disposition that this lovelorn, depressing piece of work is the only Beck album that we can stomach. It finds the singer abandoning the self-consciousness and arched-eyebrow ironic persona of his earlier records for a set of genuinely heartfelt songs about getting cheated on by his long-time girlfriend.

Bob Dylan — Blood on the Tracks

Dylan once claimed that these songs were inspired by Chekhov and weren’t autobiographical at all, but given that Blood on the Tracks is to all appearances one of the most nakedly confessional records of all time, and that it coincided with the singer’s marriage breaking up… well, no one’s really buying the Chekhov angle, put it that way.

Liz Phair — Exile in Guyville

Not so much an album about a single breakup as it is about a litany of love-related failures, Exile in Guyville is a classic of relationship-related disillusionment. There’s plenty of bravado and defiance on show (cf. “Girls! Girls! Girls!” and “Never Said”), but ultimately, this is a pretty forlorn record — as Phair asks during the ever-harrowing “Fuck and Run,” “Whatever happened to a boyfriend?/ The kind of guy who makes love because he’s in it?”

The Mountain Goats — Get Lonely

The clue’s in the album title, really. Get Lonely deals with being alone after a relationship has fallen apart — the fear of confronting solitude, the empty days, the long nights. The whole thing is summarized in the opening lines to “Woke Up New”: “On the morning when I woke up without you for the first time/ I felt free and I felt lonely and I felt scared.” As ever with John Darnielle, it’s the little details that are the most heartbreaking: “The first time I made coffee for just myself/ I made too much of it…”

Amy Winehouse — Back to Black

Sigh. Listening to this record in 2012 is a hugely depressing experience, but if you can somehow separate it from its context and appreciate it as a series of songs, then you’ll hopefully enjoy its undiminished charms. Even at its bleakest, Back to Black remains razor-sharp and occasionally hilarious (“What kind of fuckery is this?!”) — although, honestly, has there ever been a more despair-laden line than “You go back to her/ And I go back to black”?

The Cure — Disintegration

Actually, the answer to that question is probably “yes.” Look no further than “Pictures of You,” the centerpiece of Robert Smith’s most depressing record (and that’s saying something). “I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you,” sings Smith over atmospheric synths and a slow, heart-beat bass drum, “that I almost believed that they were real.” The whole record is a sad-sack classic, but this is its finest moment.