Good Album/Bad Album: The Break-Up Edition

Death Cab for Cutie’s latest album and the first following Chris Walla’s departure from the band and Zooey Deschanel’s departure from Ben Gibbard’s life, Kintsugi is a mixed bag of reviews — from critics calling it "the sound of a group resting on its laurels" to "a beautiful record" — the world of critics is a vast one. We weighed on the album amongst other post break-up albums. Screaming matches, shacking up in the woods, long list of ex-lovers, the post break-up genre is certainly a delicate and fascinating one.


Bon Iver | For Emma, Forever Ago 

One of the best moments of music history is probably when Justin Vernon locked himself up in a cabin to make music after a bad breakup. The product: For Emma, Forever Ago will probably be one of the most poignant and powerful pieces you will listen to. Haunting vocals, the lush instrumentation, this one really brings you places and feelings. It is emotional exorcism at its best and thing is, you’ll want to listen to it again and again. 

Kanye West | 808s and Heartbreaks

808s and Heartbreaks was groundbreaking not just for its inventive blend of hip-hop and R&B-inflicted electro-pop, but for the vulnerable and deeply personal lyrics. An anomaly in his braggadocio-heavy discography, it followed a series of personal tragedies and struggles — the death of his mother, the challenge of dealing with his newly-found pop star status, and his break-up with his fiancee. What resulted was an album that not only solidified Kanye West as a creative hip-hop force, it also spawned a generation of new introspective and even romantic rappers like Drake and Kid Cudi.

Miles Davis | Bitches Brew

As one of jazz’s most forward-thinking luminaries, Miles Davis embraced electrifying guitars, psychedelic imagery and an outwardly confrontational approach to music more so than his contemporaries in the late 60s. The reason? His muse and then-wife Betty Davis, who introduced him into the provocative world of funk and rock music — served the foundations for his explorations into what would be called jazz-fusion. A series of genre-defying albums were made but it was with Bitches Brew, released a year after a briefly bitter divorce with Betty, that introduced a brand new Miles Davis — one who was truly aggressive, fearless and boundary-pushing.

Joni Mitchell | Blue

Another confessional album, from the opening track, you can hear and recognise the honesty in her voice. It’s vulnerable, unwavering, unequivocal and very personal. Joni Mitchell had written most of Blue when she had been travelling Europe after her break up with long term partner Graham Nash (of Crosby, Stills and Nash) and she met and fell in love with James Taylor, the archetypal sensitive singer/songwriter of the 70s. That too didn’t last, and she completed writing Blue, one of the greatest relationship albums there is. 

Fleetwood Mac | Rumours

A staple for most vinyl collectors, the story behind the record is as good as the music itself. At the point of recording for the album, singer Christine McVie and bassist John McVie were going through a divorce - and she was dating the band’s lighting director. Guitarist and singer Lindsey Buckingham was going through a messy split with singer Stevie Nicks who later hooked up with drummer Mick Fleetwood. Yep, the 70s. If not for all the animosity, we’ll never have the feisty ’Go On Your Own Way’ or the sassy ‘Dreams’. 


Death Cab for Cutie | Kintsugi

Having already hinted that the songs come from a period of change in his life (i.e. splitting from Zooey Deschanel and Chris Walla leaving the band), a lot of eyes were on this record, Kintsugi - a style of Japanese art made from broken ceramic which is quite apt actually. Sadly, it did not quite live up to the hype. Not quite old Death Cab - and we get it, sometimes change can do you good - but there is a sort of semblance to wanting to be nostalgic Death Cab. It’s not a bad album per se, just not satisfying enough.

Coldplay | Ghost Stories

The quartet were truly the quintessentially British band in the early ‘00s — at least until frontman Chris Martin eloped with American actress Gwyneth Paltrow and by extension, America itself. Serving an inspiration for some of Coldplay’s biggest hits like ‘Fix You’, their marriage seemed to be harmonious as the group jumped from introspective alt-rock to stadium-ready synthpop but it soon officially crumbled in March 2014, two months after the release of Ghost Stories and revealed that the issues that led to the break-up inspired the album. While details of their "conscious uncoupling" were left to the tabloids, the album itself was messy with no conceptual direction. Unwarranted collaborations with EDM producers served to confuse further while only one good single came out of it: the Jon Hopkins-produced atmospheric paean 'Midnight'. 

Taylor Swift | all

Probably the only one in the list to have a break-up album about different break-up subjects, she’s the queen of hearts all right. But if you’re an indulgent and cry-to-lyrics-while-eating-chocolate sort, girl’s not much of a lyricist innit? Taylor’s songs are well, hers. Things like “You got that James Dean day dream look in your eye, and I got that red lip classic thing that you like” (from ‘Clean’) or “Love’s a fragile little flame, it could burn out, it could burn out 'cause they got the cages, they got the boxes, and guns. They are the hunters, we are the foxes, and we run” (from I Know Places) - hell no, that ain’t anything relatable in her songs. It’s catchy yes, but one that is emotionally hard-hitting, meh. Unless you’re talking $$$

The Velvet Underground | Squeeze

While not a traditional “break-up” album, it was a total removal from what The Velvet Underground did in their career when Squeeze was released in 1973. An often-forgotten record in VU’s celebrated body of work, it featured none of the core members and had only multi-instrumentalist Doug Yule, who came into the group in the 1970s and contributed to Loaded. As a result, Squeeze sounds uninspired and nothing like any of VU's past albums — lacking the tenacity of The Velvet Underground & Nico, the reckless abandon of White Light/White Heat, the ingenuity of their self-titled or the pure pop goodness of Loaded. Squeeze is like the spouse who's a hollow shell of who he/she once was.

Robin Thicke | Paula 

A singer who could go down as another one-hit wonder, Robin Thicke enjoyed brief success with the summer hit single Blurred Lines before getting hit by allegations of promoting misogyny and date rape, along with his divorce with actress Paula Patton. Break-up albums vary in subtlety but artists usually exercise caution in dealing with personal issues with allegories and poetic lines. Nope, says Mr. Thicke who released the album Paula just five months after officially announcing the separation. With track titles like “Get Her Back”, “Still Madly Crazy” and “Love Can Grow Back”, along by hackneyed lovelorn lyrics, Paula feels almost like an invasion of privacy with every attempted listen — and that’s a bad thing.