Hidden Treasures: Break-up songs

It’s fair to say that most of us are likely to wrinkle our noses at those who choose to air their dirty laundry in public, and this analogy sadly holds true when it comes to your standard breakup song.

Whilst chronicling a painful break-up in song form risks self-indulgence and accusations of cynicism, there is also scope for producing music inspiring and life-affirming in its emotional catharsis.

Beck’s Sea Change, an album written in the aftermath of a relationship, is a definitive example of how its debris – the bile, the regret and the blubbering – can be rebuilt into music that frames the fallout in ways that are ornate and beautiful.

It is also to be borne in mind that it was a love affair turned sour that gave Noah and the Whale’s sophomore album a more palatable flavour of heartbreak after the cloying sweetness of their debut, a collection of songs with less edge than Cliff Richard’s butter knife.

But what makes for an even better break-up song is when an artist eschews temptations of self-pity and instead taps into the defiant rage that is surely an equally universal response to being ditched. The staple of this form must be the chart-topping slagging match of ‘Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back)’ and its equally charming riposte, ‘Fuck You Right Back’. I bet you’d forgotten all about them, hadn’t you?

Well, sorry for reminding everyone, but it’s important to realise how bad it can get in order to appreciate the successes. If you really want this sort of thing done right, you have to go to the Goths. Namely Bauhaus, and their fan-favourite ‘Crowds’, a piano-led ballad that builds to the climactic refrain ‘I’ll walk away in spite of you’.

Giving your ex the figurative finger might very well be a childish response, but this song proves conclusively that it can still prove wholly satisfying. It also admonishes us not to demand artists keep their dirty laundry private, for fear of failing to bring the odd piece of fresh linen to light.