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The Ten Best Break-up Albums

Emily Bruce


When a relationship has ended, many of us turn to music to help get us through the emotional turmoil. Some albums comfort you and let you know you’re not alone. Others depict your anger better than you ever could. All of them put into words what you find hard to express. More often than not, these records are some of the artist’s best work due to their raw honesty. Here’s my ten favourite breakup-inspired albums (in no particular order):

Alanis Morissette – Jagged Little Pill

This has to be included for You Oughta Know alone – has anything ever depicted the anger at being left for another woman better? I think not. Other songs also channel Alanis’ fury at an ex-lover, including Right Through You and Not the Doctor. And then there’s the sad, secret track – the acapella Your House, about when she discovered her boyfriend was cheating on her; thus spawning one of the best break-up albums in history.

Adele – 21

This is possibly my favourite break-up album of all time. Starting with the anger of Rolling in the Deep and finishing with the extremely sad (how can you not get teary-eyed?) Someone Like You, Adele visits all the emotions of a break-up in between, including longing for a change of mind (I’ll Be Waiting, Don’t You Remember) and a lot of introspection about what went wrong.

Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

When Justin Vernon’s relationship ended, he retreated to a cabin in the woods to get over it. The writing and recording of this album was the result. Skinny Love is about trying to hold onto a love that is fading fast (‘just last the year…’), and the pain depicted in The Wolves (Act I and II) is unrivalled as Vernon sings ‘what might have been lost…don’t bother me.’

Tori Amos – Boys for Pele

One of Tori’s more obscure records, but also one of her best. It’s a difficult one, that’s for sure, but it’s also full of raw honesty. It opens with Horses, a tale of escaping a lover as Tori dreams of a place where ‘they say that your demons can’t go there’. There’s a lot of anger, especially on Blood Roses (‘when he sucks you deep sometimes you’re nothing but meat’) and Professional Widow (famously turned into an Armand van Helden remix which doesn’t resemble the original at all). Then there are the sadder, heart-breaking moments such as Hey Jupiter and Putting the Damage On. It ends with Twinkle, a tale of hope. And in case you were wondering, Pele is not a reference to the footballer, but to the husband-eating Hawaiian volcano goddess. Standard Tori.

Amy Winehouse – Back to Black

Almost every song here is about a struggling relationship or lost love. How can one not be affected by the words of the title track: ‘we only said goodbye with words / I died a hundred times’? The happy-go-lucky feel of Tears Dry on Their Own tries to hide the haunting lyrics: ‘I shouldn’t play myself again, should just be my own best friend, not fuck myself in the head with stupid men.’ And then there’s Love is a Losing Game – one of the most despairing but beautiful songs ever written.

Beck – Sea Change

The album, quite simply put, is an exploration of heartbreak and loneliness. The sound of the music is in keeping with this; it’s all very demure and mellow – which is fitting, but also marked a departure from Beck’s previous work. Lost Cause is one of the most heart-breaking songs of all time as he laments he is ‘tired of fighting’ over and over again.

Fleetwood Mac – Rumours

Written during the breakdowns of several band members’ relationships, their disputes didn’t stop them taking to music to vent their frustrations, and producing in the process what is undoubtedly their best album. Go Your Own Way is one of the best break-up songs of all time, and this album is thought of by many as ‘the ultimate break-up album’.

Fiona Apple – When the Pawn..

Let’s be honest, most of Fiona Apple’s work could be included here, but this album is probably the most break-up focused of the lot. Paper Bag is a tale of wanting the wrong one as she tells us ‘I know I’m a mess he don’t wanna clean up’ and ‘hunger hurts but starving works’ (lines that are often misinterpreted as being about an eating disorder, but are in fact a metaphor for staying away from someone you know is bad for you).

In Love Ridden she talks of how ‘I want your warm but it will only make me colder when it’s over, so I can’t tonight’ and she decides ‘only kisses on the cheek from now on’. There’s positivity in The Way Things Are when she convinces an ex (and perhaps herself) ‘I wouldn’t know what to do with another chance if you gave it to me’. And then, a lot of anger in Limp and Get Gone – it’s hard not to feel chills of rage along with her when she screams ‘fuckin’ go! ‘Cause I’ve done what I could for you / And I do know what’s good for me’ and ends with the line: ‘it’s time the truth got out that he don’t give a shit about me.’ No-one does woman scorned better than Fiona, that’s for sure.

Liz Phair – Exile in Guyville

This whole album is a musing on relationships gone wrong. It kicks off with 6’1’, which sees Liz taunt a Lothario: ‘I bet you fall in bed too easily / With the beautiful girls who are shyly brave / And you sell yourself as a man to save.’ The most obviously break-up related Divorce Song is a tale of the moment a relationship went wrong, and Fuck and Run tells of her inability to fall for the right men: ‘whatever happened to a boyfriend, the kind of guy who tries to win you over?’ There is nothing quite as sad and funny at the same time as the line ‘I want all that stupid old shit like letters and sodas.’ And then there’s Johnny Sunshine on which she vents her frustrations at an ex, singing ‘you left me nothing’ over and over.

Bjork – Homogenic

The album begins with Hunter, a tale of going it alone and escaping, not needing anyone. The rest of the first half continues this theme, as the second turns to anger. 5 Years is without a doubt one of the angriest break-up songs ever written as she wails ‘I’m so bored with cowards that say they want then they can’t handle.’ Ouch. Immature asks a question many wonder after a break-up: ‘how could I be so immature to think he could replace the missing elements of me?’ over and over. Indeed.