This Saturday is Valentine’s Day, which means for the rest of the week my ears will be bombarded by schmaltzy love songs in the run up to the most romantic 24 hours of the year. Oh, and someone will also probably forget that Every Breath You Take is about stalking, but that’s a story for another time. Music is filled with love songs, from the sweet and the passionate to the downright cheesy, but it’s also brimming with songs that highlight the darker side of love and lust. This is a chance to celebrate some of the songs that scratched the surface of love and explored its darker underbelly, even if we didn’t always like what was down there…
Huge thanks go to everyone who helped me compile this short playlist (a mix of happily married and comfortably single!) in the name of fun. Later this week there’ll also be a pro Valentine’s Day playlist because, really, I’m a hopeless romantic at heart.
PJ Harvey – Dry
PJ Harvey’s classic album Rid of Me is filled with hideously unsexy visions of, well, sex. From angry masturbation and affairs to a back alley rendezvous and a completely vicious attempt at revenge, it’s probably Harvey’s most visceral album overall (it’s also perhaps my favourite Harvey LP, but I don’t know what that says about me). ‘Dry,’ though, is in a league of its own. Explicit references to oral and anal sex, being splattered with semen, as well as being, shall we say, roughly handled, are all made even more uncomfortable by the notion that no matter what her lover does, Harvey is forever dry in a rather sensitive area, causing her to literally sound like she’s screaming in agony on the record. Ouch.
Tricky – Suffocated Love
Like Rid of Me, much of Tricky’s debut album Maxinquaye could be added to this list for its unflinching look at destructive relationships, power struggles and rough sex. This cut sees Tricky’s former muse and partner in crime Martina Topley Bird almost spit out her angry words at a completely controlling lover. While its slinky and sensual melodies and the teardrop strings speak of falling in love, Topley Bird shattered the illusion entirely in her four repeated lines. Add to that Tricky’s sleazy musing that it’s not love, just pure lust, and it makes for an uncomfortable experience.
Tori Amos – Hey Jupiter
Perhaps there were a few people expecting me to place something from Tori Amos’ debut Little Earthquakes on here. Well, no. Amos’ most devastating treatise on the effects of a truly broken heart come from her third album Boys For Pele. For the longest time, I couldn’t listen to the tale of woe weaved in ‘Hey Jupiter’ without bursting out into little muffled sobs. Across a relatively simple, sometimes pounding piano line, Amos tells the story of a woman who is so devastated by the breakdown of her relationship that she commits suicide in her bathtub. Beautifully grim stuff.
Anything from Bjork’s latest album
For anyone that doesn’t know, Bjork broke up with her long term partner, artist Matthew Barney, a while back and it inspired her latest, crushingly emotional album Vulnicura. Drenched in strings and completely mad beats, it’s probably her rawest work. And it’s also the one that examines personal issues the most deeply (something she arguably hasn’t done for over ten years). Don’t listen to Vulnicura if you’re feeling at all emotionally fragile. It might just break you.
Let’s Buy Happiness – Run
For a while, Newcastle-based band Let’s Buy Happiness were incredibly close to my heart. Alas, a few years passed and the group are now, unfortunately, defunct. ‘Run’ was the first single from their debut album Chants for Friends, a truly melancholic traverse into the perils of loving someone who just can’t face up to certain truths. Painful yes, but beautiful also.
Sufjan Stevens – I Walked
Sufjan Stevens’ last full-length album The Age of Adz was possibly his greatest achievement since Illinoise. It was also, to at least some extent, a concept album. That didn’t stop it containing some completely bizarre lyrics and examinations of personal relationships, no matter how far out his chosen subject matter really was. ‘I Walked’ was one of the standout tracks, not only for its downbeat synths and melancholic choir but also for its intricately woven tale of a domestic relationship gone terribly wrong. Yet another tale of suicide, Stevens relates how after the breakdown of his relationship he stabbed himself in the heart. Not without its humour though, Stevens apologises for the bloody mess that he left on his former lover’s carpet, causing it to permanently stain. The fact he seems most concerned about this (at this point his voice almost breaks) places it as an anti-love song, in the end more concerned with textiles than human emotion.
OutKast – Happy Valentine’s Day
What’s this? An actual song on the list that celebrates Valentine’s Day? Not quite. Although it references every holiday from Easter to Christmas (and even Groundhog Day), OutKast focus mostly on the 14th February and imagine a gun-toting Cupid determined to make his mark in an almost psychotic manner while Andre 3000 talks about playing the field. Plus, it ends with the words “Fuck that Valentine’s Day.” Enough said really.
BC Camplight – Just Because I Love You
On the surface, Brian Christinzio’s latest single is a 70s-tinged, airy-fairy love song. Scratch its breezy exterior though and you get a core of pure hatred and bitterness that veers between sweetly cooing ironic statements of false affection and erupting into a fit of bile describing how much Christinzio’s fictional lover has hurt him. “I gave her my heart but the bitch bled me dry” he spits, before reverting to his slightly falsetto tones in the chorus. It may only be a couple of months old but it’s already an anti-Valentines classic.
Puddle of Mudd – She Hates Me
When I asked a few friends what would be their top pick for an anti-Valentine’s song, this came out on top. As its title suggests, Puddle of Mudd’s best-known song (which will probably forever be their legacy) is far from being a typical love story. Instead, it’s all about how much this one-time couple despise each other. Filled with cathartic swears and a typically bombastic approach to rock, it’s the angsty anthem that everybody of a certain age probably played when their teenage sweetheart decided to call it time.
Babes In Toyland – Pain In My Heart
It’s good news that Babes In Toyland recently reformed to help those of us unfortunately too young to see them the first time around bask in their riot grrrl glory. ‘Pain In My Heart’ wasn’t exactly laden with clever lyrics (heck, it came from an album called Spanking Machine) but it’s filled with enough venom against the opposite sex to make it the female version of ‘She Hates Me.’ Splattered with expletives directed at the deadbeat boyfriend, ‘Pain In My Heart’ continues to stab at the opposite part by thoroughly taunting the man.
Pantera – Fucking Hostile
While searching for suggestions in the hope of making this list democratic, a friend suggested Pantera to me. At first, this didn’t make a great deal of sense. Then I thought to myself: ‘Pantera are anti-Valentines. Who’s honestly played Pantera out of a boombox like John Cusack in Say Anything to woo someone?’ And so, I bring you Pantera. Enjoy.