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The most depressing albums ever recorded (Part 2)
This is a continuation of an earlier hub I wrote which takes a look at some of the darkest, most depressing, dance floor clearing albums written and recorded. As mentioned in Part 1 some of the greatest music ever written has been inspired by tragedy, hard times and sadness. This hub pays tribute to some of the most depressing but nevertheless brilliant albums recorded.
"Famous Blue Raincoat" from Songs of Love and Hate
Leonard Cohen - Songs of Love and Hate
They locked up a man
Who wanted to rule the world
They locked up the wrong man
Leonard Cohen is not known for writing cheery jingles, so it’s no surprise that he makes this list of depressing albums. In fact Cohen has such a reputation for writing depressing music that he was given the sarcastic moniker (unfairly in my opinion) “Laughing Lenny Cohen”.
Released in 1971 Songs of Love and Hate was Cohen’s third album and his darkest and most ambitious. As the title suggests the album addresses some heavy themes, the songs themselves are mostly paired down acoustic numbers, made even starker by Cohen’s dark baritone voice.
The album received mostly warm reviews and did well outside of the US, peaking at number 4 on the UK charts.
Songs of Love and Hate is is a dark, melancholy album which is not as accessible as some of his previous works. However it is a hugely ambitious body of work which captures some of Cohen’s finest songwriting.
Lou Reed - Berlin
"Staring at my picture book
She looks like Mary, Queen of Scots
She seemed very regal to me
Just goes to show how wrong you can be "
When it comes to depressing albums Lou Reed’s Berlin is legendary. The album has often been cited as the most depressing album ever made. Released in 1973, hot on the heels of one of Reeds most commercially successful albums Transformer, Berlin is a 50 minute rock opera telling the story of a couple’s doomed relationship as it descends through violence, drug use, depression and eventually death.
Berlin was a commercial flop and critics wasted no time in savaging the album. Rolling Stone had the following to say about the album.
“Lou Reed's Berlin is a disaster, taking the listener into a distorted and degenerate demimonde of paranoia, schizophrenia, degradation, pill-induced violence and suicide. There are certain records that are so patently offensive that one wishes to take some kind of physical vengeance on the artists that perpetrate them” (Rolling Stone Magazine 1973)
The years subsequent to its release have been much kinder to Berlin and many now consider the album to be Reed’s finest work. Reed toured with the album in its entirety in 2008 which received mostly excellent reviews.
Lou Reed - Sad Song (from Berlin)
"Dead of Winter" from Electro Shock Blues
The Eels – Electro Shock Blues
“See this watch she gave me?
Well it still ticks away
The days I’m claiming back for me”
No stranger to tragedy, Eels frontman Mark Everett (more commonly known as E) has made a career out of writing downbeat songs, inspired by tragic events in his own life. Electro-Shock Blues was the Eels second album, released in 1998. Electro-Shock Blues was written largely in response to Everett’s sister's suicide and his mother's terminal cancer. Many of the songs deal with this loss and coming to terms with being the only surviving member of his family (Everett’s father died of a heart attack in 1982)
Given the tragic circumstances around the album it is no surprise that this is a difficult album to listen to. The album starts with the song “Elizabeth on the Bathroom floor” which is about finding his sister, just as the title describes. Things don’t get any easier with the next songs “Going to your funeral”, “Cancer for the Cure” and “My Descent into Madness”. It is not until the second half of the album where the mood lifts, albeit ever so slightly. “The medication’s wearing off” is a hopeful song despite the title, and the final song “PS you rock my world” hints at finding peace and the realisation that it is time to start living.
Bonnie Prince Billy - I see a Darkness
"Well I hope that someday buddy
We'll have peace in our lives
Together or apart
Alone or with our wives"
Bonnie Prince Billy is one of America’s musical mavericks. His real name is Will Oldham and he has released his music under a series of different names including Will Oldham, Palace Music, Palace Brothers, Palace Songs and finally Bonnie Prince Billy.
Released in January 1999, I see Darkness is a collection of morbidly stark and emotionally wrenching songs. It is difficult to describe just how gloomy this album is, the whole things sounds like it was written and performed by a man who has lost all hope. That might not sound like much of a recommendation but each of the 11 songs on this album are haunting, memorable and very affecting.
The album received much critical acclaim, appearing in several best of lists from prominent music publications; including Number 20 of Mojo Magazine’s greatest 100 albums of our lifetime and Number 9 – in Pitchfork Media: Top 100 Albums of the 1990s.
I See a Darkness also caught the ear of Johnny Cash who covered the album’s title track on his American Recordings disc, American III: Solitary Man (2000).
I See a Darkness is not an easy album to listen to, it requires a particular mood to appreciate these songs, but repeat listens are rewarding.
Joni Mitchell – Blue
“Acid, booze and ass, needles guns and grass, lots of laughs”
Following a break from performing Joni Mitchell returned to release her fourth album entitled Blue in 1971. Working with simple arrangements and minimal accompaniment the album is a 32 minute song cycle of love found and lost. It is thought the album was inspired, at least in part, by Mitchell’s relationship breakdown with long-time boyfriend Graham Nash. Either way Blue is a stark, sombre album and a significant departure from her earlier work.
Mitchell said of the album “"At that period of my life, I had no personal defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world and I couldn't pretend in my life to be strong."[
Blue was ranked #30 in Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.