Hurts so good: Divorce may be just the thing for a hit album
Divorce makes for great music. There’s nothing better than anger, bitterness, regret, guilt and loathing to fire up the creative faculties. And if it’s platinum disc sales and superlative critical acclaim you’re after, your best bet musically is to split up acrimoniously and bleed it out all over the tracks.
This perverse musical truth has been universally acknowledged by everyone from Fleetwood Mac (Rumours) to Bruce Springsteen (Tunnel of Love) to U2 (Achtung Baby) to Abba (The Visitors). Throw in Beck (Sea Change), Adele (21) and the Primus inter pares that is Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks and you come to realise that truly, it’s the sad songs that mean (and sell) so much.
Leo Tolstoy (making his debut in Revolver) once said that “All happy families are alike; but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. It’s the same with songs. Happy songs all say the same thing, but unhappy ones get personal, specific and don’t spare us the details.
What Springsteen expressed about the break-up of his marriage to Julianne Phillips in Brilliant Disguise is a very different kind of hurt to that expressed by Nick Cave in Far from Me (off another great divorce album, The Boatman’s Call). But then, Cave knows which side his artistic bread is buttered. “I’ll do anything to get a good song,” he said once. “Even be involved in a disastrous relationship. Love dies. What remains is the art.”
Chris Martin and Coldplay have a new album due out, but the probability of it being a new Blood on the
Why, Gwyneth, why? Chris Martin’s next Coldplay album may not be the break-up screed we’re hoping for
Tracks is rather remote. We’re no doubt looking at music’s first “Conscious Uncoupling” album.
This just won’t do. Sorry for your troubles and all of that, but we’re sort of used to, and indeed expect, rancourous abuse, cheap shots and low digs at this juncture. Granted, it’s difficult to rhyme anything with “vegan” and “macrobiotic”. But if you make lots of money from writing songs about how much in love you are, your audience sort of expect you to write songs about how much out of love you are now.
But Ghost Stories, we’ve already been warned, by Chris Martin himself, won’t even be a “marriage breakdown” album:
“I wouldn’t use the word ‘breakdown’; this was more a realisation about trying to grow up basically. If you can’t open yourself up, you can’t appreciate the wonder inside.” So it’s an “issues” album then. Oh dear.
Issues and plenty of euphemisms, it seems. “The album is about how life throws these colourful challenges at you,” says Martin. Sorry, but only a foaming-at-the-mouth holistic relationship counsellor would ever come up with the phrase “colourful challenge” to describe a marriage breaking up.
“If you don’t let love in then you can’t really give it back,” he adds. A fine sentiment – if you’re doing an album of Barney or Peppa Pig songs.
We suppose it’s unfair to pre-judge Ghost Stories on these Hallmark banalities. Still, if you’re looking for the real lowdown on divorce, stick on Marvin Gaye’s Here My Dear. This one truly hurts so good.