Over the years I’ve collected thousands of CD’s, hundreds of records and dozens of tapes. While I am not as close to my collection as I once was, that doesn’t devalue the importance a great album can have on my life.
Like most audiophiles, my teens and early twenties found me forlorned, I struggled for years with who I was and who I wanted to become. (In full disclosure, I still struggle with it.) Back then, I spent lots of time alone. It wasn’t always on purpose; but frequently it was.
Remember the scene in the movie “Clerks” where the one guy – and I’m paraphrasing here – says, “I love gathering, but hate people”? After seeing it, I thought to myself, “I get that. But I hate gatherings and hate people.”
It wasn’t like I was a mole, living in a hole. But in my free time, I often delved into music. When life was wearing on me, I’d turn out the lights, pop in a CD, put on headphones and sink into wonderful depression.
I guess you have to be depressed or have been a person that spent a lot of time depressed to understand that statement, but I have no other way of describing it.
Last weekend I mentioned something about wonderfully depressing albums on Twitter. That turned into a conversation with a handful of people on the subject. A couple of them floated the idea of writing about my favorite wonderfully depressing albums.
So I am.
A wonderfully depressing album may be an entire album, part of an album or even a few songs from an album that takes a listener to a place of deep emotional relevancy. It might make a listener depressed, lovesick, heartbroken, homesick or introspective.
I am going to share with you some of the albums that fit this bill to me. There are a few established ground rules for this list:
1. No greatest hits album allowed with three exceptions: The Smiths, artists whose music is more than 50 years old and live albums.
2. I have to own the album.
3. There are no genre limitations.
4. This isn’t a ranking – just some albums that had a profound affect on me.
Mesh – In This Place Forever
Here’s a cool thing about this album: It is the first album I ever had to order direct from overseas. Around 1997/1998 I was obsessed with a couple of songs of this album there were played on Coyote J’s radio show, “The Edge”. Through my college department’s computer lab, I tracked the album down in Germany and ordered it. I think I payed about $25 for it and had to wait a month to get it. Totally worth it.
Mesh was what I thought Depeche Mode should have been at the time. A haunting, dark wave band. I’ve been listening to the album while writing this and my brain is overloading with visuals from that time-and-place in my life. It personifies this topic. Songs like “You Didn’t Want Me”, “I Don’t Think They Know”, “Shatters” and “Confined” make me wonderfully depressed.
I want to live in that feeling, forever.
Hayden – Everything I Long For
In his debut album, the Canadian singer-songwriter, Hayden, crafted an amazing piece of lo-fi art. The first five or six songs on the album are so raw, so emotional, so real that I could hit the lottery, listen to the album and be ready to drive my car off a cliff. It includes the beautiful song, “Stem” which says more in about 1:30 than I have been able to muster in 18 years of writing.
Keith Whitley – Don’t Close Your Eyes
Released in 1988, Whitley’s album might seem stereotypical of the classic sad-sack country album. I wrote about this album extensively in a past editorial so I’ll keep this brief. Whitley’s version of “I Never Go Around Mirrors” literally makes me hurt. It’s that good.
Death Cab for Cutie – Transatlanticism
Ben Gibbard was at his apex with The Postal Service and Death Cab for Cutie in 2003. For me, Transatlanticism was an album whose effect didn’t occur until the year after it was released. I randomly pulled it out one night and played it. The title-track “Transatlanticism” struck a nerve. It just happened to fit what I needed to hear and what I was going through.
The Postal Service – Give Up
I was 26 when this album came out in 2003, but I might as well have been a 16 year-old girl. I feel head-over-heals-in-love with this album from the moment I heard it. I think I actually had a physical crush on the album. I must have played this CD a 100 times or more. It felt so new and yet tapped into the lonely, nerdy core of who I was.
The songs play like a “best of” album. From “Such Great Heights” to “Clark Gable” to “Recycled Air” to “Nothing Better” to “The District Sleeps Along Tonight” … just typing the titles hurts my heart.
Every time I listen to the album, it becomes half sing-a-long, half a sad retrospective of a time in my life that almost doesn’t seem real. This album was a re-birth album in a lot of ways for me.
Even now I have a hard time listening to it. It’s that emotional to me.
Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine
When I reviewed the re-issue of Pretty Hate Machine, I touched on the reasons why this album was so important to me. When I first heard it as a high schooler, it was the first time I had ever heard anything like it. It totally changed my view on life and music. In my mind, it remains of of the greatest albums ever put together.
Nirvana – Unplugged in New York
I have screamed into speakers blasting this album more than all other albums combined. This album is the greatest work of Nirvana, in my opinion, because it was raw and exposed. There was no hiding behind shrill guitars and mosh pits, only that voice scratching out one of the last performances of Kurt Cobain’s career. I wanted to be him for a few years because of this album.
Jim Reeves – The Essential
There are 20 songs on this album compiling the work of the “Nashville Sound” of Jim Reeves. He was a huge country (and pop) star who was killed in a plane crash in 1964. The songs are out of another time and place, but yanks so hard at the core of a Southern boy with deep country roots that in the dozens of times I have listened to this album, I have only been able to make it throw all 20 songs exactly one time.
Reeves song heartbreaking songs better than almost anyone who has ever sung heartbreaking songs. Songs like “Four Walls”, “He’ll Have To Go”, “Blue Side of Lonesome” and “Welcome to My World” personify what it means to be a heartbroken man. But I’ll-be-damned if “Suppertime” doesn’t kill me every time.
While Hank Williams and Johnny Cash get most of the attention from that era, it you really want to experience what drinking whiskey and smoking cigarettes really felt like in the 1950’s and 1960’s, this is the album you need.
The Cure – Disintegration
Like they said on the classic episode of “South Park” when Robert Smith killed the godzilla-esque Barbara Streisand, “Disintegration is the best fucking album!”
There is no way that a wonderfully depressing list can not contain this album. As a matter of fact, this is the Godfather album of this genre. There were times when I’d be laying on the floor listening to “Pictures of You” or “Fascination Street” or “Love Song” on repeat and feel like I was dying. And like it.
I love The Cure. I was obsessed with them for years. This album was/is a big reason why.
The Smiths – Louder Than Bombs
I’ve always wanted a black t-shirt that said, in lavender lower-case text, “produced my morrissey and marr”. The Smiths have more greatest hits/compilation albums than original ones. There’s no way I couldn’t include The Smiths in this list, the challenge was which album.
I actually listened to Singles much more than Louder Than Bombs but the fact that Louder Than Bombs has “Back to the Old House”, “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want”, “Oscillate Wildly”, “Asleep” “This Night Has Opened My Eyes ” and “Unloveable” edges it out over Singles even if it doesn’t have “There Is A Light That Will Never Go Out”.
If I have to explain why I love Morrissey and The Smiths, we can’t be friends.
It is obvious that this will be a multi-part series because I didn’t have time to write about the albums below because of time. And these aren’t all the albums I wanted to get to, either:
New Order – Substance
Depeche Mode – 101
Turin Brakes – The Optimist LP
Travis – The Man Who
The Cactus Brothers – The Cactus Brothers
Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise – Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise
Gene – Drawn To The Deep End
I’ll pick up from here, next time. Here’s hoping we all find new albums to add to this list, soon.