Friday, April 02, 2004

Music from the Depths

Andrew has been talking about the grimmest albums in his record collection on his excellent BB blog - irresistible stuff for me and my love of lists, and enough to have me mentally reeling off my depression top ten. And now, writing it down. I can't help noticing I've missed off anything by Lou Reed (and Leonard Cohen! Oh hell!), but that aside, this lot should inspire the bleakest of moods, should you be feeling uncharacteristically cheerful today, and keen to get back to normal...

(not in order)

1. Gravediggaz - 6 Feet Under

Claustrophobic and brimming with malevolence, the first gravediggaz album is suffocating, raw and immensely gloomy. not music for dark nights. "So you wanna die, commit suicide? Phone 1-800, cyanide line".

2. Tindersticks - Tindersticks

The first Tindersticks record (and indeed, every subsequent one) was bruised and melancholy, and chasteningly romantic. "You knew you were lost as soon as you saw her.You saw your life as a series of complicated dance steps, impossible to learn"

3. Blur - The Great Escape

People point to the torpid 13 as Damon's angst record, but the Great Escape fits the bill far better. On first listen full of over-produced and chirpy pop songs, repeated listening reveals an undercurrent of sadness which runs through from Country House and it's melancholy coda ("blow, blow me out, I am so sad, I don't know why"), Best Days' broken "Other people would break into a cold sweat, if they thought that these were the best days of our lives" and Damon's lovely Yuko and Hiro ("I drink in the evening. It helps with relaxing. I can't sleep without drinking"). And The Universal is, of course, a paean to Prozac.

4. Cure - Seventeen Seconds

People usually point to Faith as the Cure's most depressing record, but it doesn't have A Forest on it. This one does. "It's always the same, I'm running towards nothing, again and again and again". Brilliantly sparse and sombre, this is a fantastically depressing album.

5. Notorious BIG - Ready to Die

Granted, it's got JUICY on it, possibly the most uplifting hip hop track ever, but when Biggie got dark he was the darkest. In Things Done Changed he raps 'My mom's got cancer of the breast. Now you asking why I'm muthafucking stressed?', and from then on the album is brimming with desperate moments, culminating in Suicidal Thoughts - "I swear to God I just want to slit my wrists and end this bullshit" - and the album's final moment, a gunshot and a frantic voice calling down a phone line, "Yo, Big? Big?".

6. Alfred Schnittke - Concerto for Piano and Strings

Savage and frightening music.

7. Joy Division - Closer

Far too obvious, but it couldn't be left off the list. Despair in its purest form, with a kinetic quality which would resurface in the wonderful rhythms of New Order. Actually not a record I choose to listen to very often, but undeniably deserving of a place on the list.

8. Arvo Part - Fratres / Tabula Rasa

Not really depressing as such, but heartbreakingly austere. An ideal record for sinking in. Likewise Gavin Bryars' Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet, which I've decided is, broadly speaking, uplifting. But with it's cold, brooding instrumentation, like Part, it's only a heartbeat away from being painful.

9. The Smiths - The Smiths

Possible to choose any Smiths record and find ample evidence of why it should be on the list. But in Suffer Little Children Morrissey wrote what was probably the most depressing lyric and melody in history, so it makes it in for that reason. As dark as music gets. The lyrics really need to be read in full to really appreciate them, but here's "Lesley-Anne, with your pretty white beads, Oh John, you'll never be a man, And you'll never see your home again. Oh Manchester, so much to answer for". In context, that's got to be the most upsetting lyric ever written.

10. 101 acoustic dirges

In the end, there's nothing more depressing, musically, than the dirge, especially is it's performed on an acoustic guitar, and especially if it's accompanied by weedy, nasal singing. So a last ditch mention for Graham Coxon (who sings "I wish I could bring Nick Drake back to life. He'd understand. Hold my hand") and Syd Barrett. Actually, my particular favourite in this vein is Neutral Milk Hotel's frankly disturbing King of Carrot Flowers, which opens with a cry of "I loooooove you Jesus Christ!" and never gets much further on my stereo, as Vic will invariably snap the volume off immediately, asking if I've gone insane...

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