My new favourite heartbreak album

22:53, May 15 2014

So, I started the week talking about Natalie Merchant's new song, Giving Up Everything and Dave Dobbyn's piece for the miners, This Love and I'm going to end the week pointing you to my new favourite heartbreak album.

Sad songs say so much - or as I said on Monday, it's always that special type of sad song, where there's hope, even if just a tad, some attempt at holding head high. I'm drawn to these sorts of songs - especially when they are collected together. And it's been a week of thinking back to favourite "sad" albums as well as discovering brand new ones.

Joseph Arthur's tribute album to Lou Reed has him covering two of my favourite Lou Reed songs from the last essential Lou Reed album (and always one of my favourites), Magic and Loss. I'm enjoying Arthur's take on some of Lou's best songs - particularly his reading of the title song from Magic and Loss.

My all-time favourite buzz-kill albums would be Richard and Linda Thompson's Shoot Out The Lights and Leonard Cohen's Songs of Love and Hate. Listening to Nick Cave  on Marc Maron's podcast (an old episode but one I finally sat down to just a couple of days ago) had me back in touch with that Cohen album. It was a huge influence on Cave. And thinking about the movie Grizzly Man (and Thompson's score for it) and posting some thoughts on it is what took me back to Shoot Out The Lights.

I'd rather listen in - as voyeuristic/eavesdropping as it seems - to that marriage disintegrating than listen to Chris Martin trace circles in water colours around his "conscious uncoupling" (and, hey, I'm happy enough to tell you the new Coldplay album is kinda okay, which means it might even be the band's best).

I'm not sure anything will ever knock that Shoot Out The Lights off the top spot in terms of heartbreak - Magic and Loss (a different kind of sorrow, it's about grieving the death of friends rather than the end of an intimate relationship) will always sit high on that list too. As will the punishing anger and confessional bile of Cohen's darkest album.

But this week I found a new favourite - for now at least. Lykke Li hasn't made a bad record. She has three out now, but I Never Learn is her best. Took me a while though. I didn't think it had it over Wounded Rhymes or Youth Novels to begin with - but there's a real power in this album due to the subject matter of the songs. The arrangements are impeccable, the record is trimmed of any fat, just nine songs, just over half an hour, no filler, but it's the subject-matter that sells it. From the opening title-track on through - this is her story being told, a recent break-up, her relocation to a world away as a result, this is her real life. It might all be ramped up a bit for the record - heartbreak sounding so good with Phil Spector-like wall-of-sound treatments and big washes of 1980s pop music crashing against that wall. But I believe her. I talked yesterday of not believing The Black Keys. Well this is a case of totally, utterly believing the heart on the line, lump in throat moments. And believing in the intention. There's also a real crafting to the Li album. Just nine songs, just over half an hour - no room for mistakes or filler, every track building on the one before it, furthering the cause of the album. It's not, as such, a concept album but it's a perfectly selected collection of songs. They need to hang together. You need to hear this as an album.

And just as you can sometimes wallow in sadness, you can, I've often thought, feel quite good about feeling sad if the right music is on - it's also true that the right kind of sad music can be a power in itself, can lift you up. That stoicism I guess, the aim for redemption, for closure at least. There's something in Lykke Li's new album that keeps me listening. I haven't felt bummed out at all this week. It's been a good week. And, oddly or not, a big part of that has been all the sad, grim, devastated, deeply contemplative music. And the new Coldplay album too.

So any Lykke Li fans out there? Have you heard I Never Learn (again, here's my review) or will you be keen to check it out?  And what's your pick for a favourite "heartbreak" album? Any new favourite heartbreak albums to rival the old classics for you?

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