Five Essential Break-Up Albums

Scott Wallace
7th Oct 2015

A good break-up album is something you have to have in your life. Maybe put it behind some glass with a sign saying “In Case of Heartache, Break Glass.” A good break-up album can encourage you not to wallow, but to find something cathartic and real to latch onto. Here are five of the best that will be your good friends in time of need. 

Joni Mitchell – Blue (1971) 

Joni Mitchell’s classic album Blue became an archetypal template for a generation of confessional singer-songwriters. It’s very difficult to find a set of songs as candid and unflinching as this one. There are joyful points, like the travelogue cum cheeky character sketch “Carey,” that when placed along the more sorrowful material like the dark Christmas-tinged ballad “River” or the longing “A Case of You,” show a woman learning to love herself in the face of emotional disaster.

Richard and Linda Thompson – Shoot Out the Lights (1982)

The pervasive melancholy of Richard and Linda Thompson’s work turned in upon itself and started to fester on their last album together. Like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours or ABBA’s The Visitors, this dour record acutely evokes a relationship on its last legs. Never had their brand of spare and haunting folk-rock had this amount of palpable tension, anger and dread. As the jolting “Wall of Death” closes the record, there is a real sense of catharsis as things finally come to a head.

Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker (2000)

The prolific and adventurous Ryan Adams could never quite fit neatly into the country genre, despite the twang to his voice and his love of harmonica. Heartbreaker (the name says it all) is possibly his most traditional record, and many of its songs play like modern updates on the long-established country break-up song. The emotional apex of the record is the gorgeous “Come Pick Me Up” where a finger-picked banjo and drifting harmonies convey both resentment and longing at the same time.

Amy Winehouse – Back to Black (2006) 

There’s no better way of summing up the relationship between Amy Winehouse and eventual husband Blake Fielder-Civil than the line “You love blow and I love puff,” from this album’s remarkable title track. This whole record, the last one Amy Winehouse ever finished, explores dependency (both chemical and human) and recovery. There are profound moments of strength and self-assurance here, though. Amy tells us “Love Is a Losing Game,” and on the very next track affirms that her “Tears Dry on Their Own.”

Björk – Vulnicura (2015)

The latest album from noted sonic experimenter Björk is her most restrained and her most personal. Its genesis came with the end of her long marriage to contemporary artist Matthew Barney. Consisting of songs detailing the lead-up to the split and then its aftermath, the record uses lush strings and subtle electronics to tell a story of hurt and healing. From the murky sorrow of the ten-minute “Black Lake,” Björk emerges after nearly a year of turmoil and, on the kinetic “Atom Dance,” learns that she must expose her wounds in order to heal them.