Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Blue Albums

There's a particular class of thematic works by certain acts that are best described as “blue albums”, for want of a better term. The unifying concept that ties all so-called blue albums together is a all-too tangible sense of romantic disillusionment and emotional turmoil, conveyed through the artist's appropriately dejected delivery and pertinently sober arrangements. In other words, these constitute the sort of stuff to play after the end of that turbulent fling, or if you're wallowing in the depths of unrequited affection. Here are some notable examples:

ONLY THE LONELY (Frank Sinatra, 1958)
The sentimentality on this often overlooked masterpiece by Old Blue Eyes is that of the disheartening and resigned variety, brilliantly put forward through these so-called "suicide songs". Every single track here is exquisitely moving, shaded with gloom-filled, spare orchestrations by Nelson Riddle that knowingly emphasises Sinatra's pain-wracked tenor. One for those long, dark lonely nights of the soul.

I'M ALIVE (Jackson Browne, 1993)
Written as a direct response to his tumultuous break-up with actress Daryl Hannah, 'I’m Alive' is often named as Browne’s most personal set of songs, and rightly so too. Encompassing the full gamut of a restive relationship, from desperate devotion ('I’ll Do Anything', ‘Everywhere I Go'), furious frustration ('My Problem is You'), soul-defeating apprehension ('Too Many Angels', 'Take This Rain') and hard-won acceptance ('Sky Blue and Black', 'All Good Things'), 'I’m Alive' is remarkably well-composed and appropriately empathic. The absolutely devastating 'Sky Blue and Black' must surely be the most candid paean to a dearly departed ever written in late 20th-century rock.

TUNNEL OF LOVE (Bruce Springsteen, 1987)
Another sincere rejoinder to the end of a relationship, Springsteen’s Dear John letter to ex-wife Julianne Phillips is suitably stark and subdued, a welcome contrast from the more well-known bombast of the preceding 'Born in the USA'. The reflective 'One Step Up' arguably ranks as the Boss’s most forthright break-up ditty, while the languidly paced 'Valentine’s Day’ makes for the perfect closer: ominous, shadowy and angst-ridden.

US (Peter Gabriel, 1992)
A kaleidoscopic musical tapestry that blends the best of Eastern esoterica and Western firepower, 'Us' is a powerful yet sincere assessment of Gabriel’s past failed relationships, filtered through some of his most intimate lyrics and stately arrangements. 'Come Talk to Me' makes for one hell of an album opener, lamenting the lack of communication on both global and personal levels, while the gospel-influenced 'Washing of the Water' and the cathartic closer 'Secret World' features Gabriel’s most emotional vocalisations to date. Still remains unparalleled in its sheer emotional scope.

WHERE IT GOES (Lori Carson, 1995)
Underrated New York folkie Lori Carson brings us this absolutely shattering set of yearning love songs, brutally shot through with raw sentiments and conflicted emotions. Couched in some of the most skeletal textures ever crafted, the songs on 'Where It Goes' tells their collective story of romantic upheaval and unrequited love simply and quietly, thankfully without any grandiose affectations. Almost unbearably quiet in places, the album is painfully palpable and justifiably bleak, but imbued with a paradoxical sense of exhausted hope.


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