It has been a long time for me since I found the perfect break-up album. Thankfully, for the last 10 years, I haven’t needed one, and I don’t expect to need one ever again.
But there’s still value in identifying a good one when it comes along because, Lord knows, there’s a heart broken every minute in this fast-moving digital age, and whether the mournful sounds are pouring from a car stereo, a CD player in a dark room, a cold computer monitor’s speakers or the ear buds of an iPod, the healing power of the break-up album cannot be overlooked.
My two favorites in this category have always been as stylistically opposite as two albums might possibly get. But both always managed to echo the pain and confusion in my heart.
Dinosaur Jr.’s Where You Been remains at the top of the list. The depth of the bleak landscape it created way back in 1993 is timeless. J. Mascis’ gutteral wail, combined with the driving guitars, and the orchestra flourishes, was the perfect companion for late night drives down empty interstates, when you just want to roll the windows down, punch the gas and scream in frustration at the frailty of love.
Eight years later, I turned to an unlikely source for guidance and inspiration as another relationship, the most pivotal union of my brief life at that point, went south. Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love, with its unflinching yet cathartic ability to turn the mirror around and expose the heart’s filthy secrets, played on a constant loop in my car stereo. I would sit in a cul de sac at dusk, unable to muster the energy to get up and out of the car and go back inside the house to face another fight, and listen to “One Step Up” or “Brilliant Disguise” and know that The Boss, that Bruce knew the predicament I was in because he too had shared something similar.
Ironically, break-up albums often aren’t mainstays in your music rotation, and as such, Tunnel of Love has only rarely received a spin since I extricated myself from that downward spiral years ago.
Given that it has been some time since darkness descended on my love life, I was shocked but nonetheless pleasantly surprised to find Lucas Dawson’s Another Way to Say Goodbye.
Never has heartbreak sounded so palpable – almost to the point of making listening to Dawson’s album a difficult and draining experience. It’s not that the music isn’t exceptional. It’s more that you feel like you’re trespassing and reading the liner notes to someone’s soul, that you’ve suddenly crossed over into a heartbreak that’s too real to not be your own.
Songs like “I’m So Miserable,” which imagines life post-breakup with all the daily landmines that separation entails, from buying a puppy and making it sleep on the empty pillow to fill the void or changing one’s habits to start drinking a lover’s favorite beverage, border on the fringe of a new genre: Creepy stalker laments.
Dawson’s voice breaks and cracks, adding to the pain that radiates forth. He sounds like a heartbroken Chris Issak at times, rendered impotent and immobile except for his voice due to the crushing loss of a loved one from his life.
On other tracks like “Ain’t Life Cruel,” Dawson sounds like Tom Waits singing through a mouthful of rocks behind a blistering, galloping guitar riff. It’s worth seeking out the lyrics, though, on his personal website, because Dawson’s words are incredibly sharp, like laser-guided missiles launched to destroy any traces of second-guessing or hand-wringing over the loss.
On “Cruel,” Dawson allows his mind to wander while burning old photos and letters from his former love. There he discovers a note where she wrote that she would be home late, but not to worry. Here’s how that twist of phrase sticks in his craw: Now what could that mean? / In light of what I know now / About that night you stayed out / And when you finally found your way back home you had no underwear on.
Dawson digs deeper in “I’m Giving Up” and “Old Habits,” almost masochistically retracing every moment of his failed relationship and allowing the bitter taste to color any new attempts at romance.
You can’t help but feel sorry for the poor woman he hooks up with in “Old Habits,” if only because we’ve all had someone like her, an unwitting accomplice to the self-destruction taking place, when Dawson sings: I just hope that she don’t pay it too much mind / When I tell her that I love her as I come inside / Old habits die hard.
Ouch! Been there, lost the T-shirt.
This primordial deep, dark muck can make for treacherous listening if you are in the throes of a failed or failing romance. But it also can bolster and buttress one’s heart when it needs it most.
Music has that power. The ability to hurt, the ability to heal, the ability to help overcome.
God bless the break-up album.
They don’t make enough of them like this anymore.
Lucas Dawson – I’m So Miserable
Lucas Dawson – Ain’t Life Cruel
Lucas Dawson – Old Habits
Lucas Dawson’S Official Site, Lucas Dawson on Facebook, Buy Another Way To Say Goodbye