You’d think we’d be sick of The xx by now, given they have been absolutely everywhere for the past 18 months. But the more we hear these songs of bittersweet tenderness, the more they twist their emotional wrench: twilit R&B redrawn in shades of black and grey.
After the gorgeous geek romances of 1995’s ‘Different Class’, Pulp turned to the sordid sleaze of hardcore pornography (the mordantly groovy title track), and the agonies of drug comedowns (‘The Fear’) and growing old (‘Help The Aged’) for their downbeat ’98 masterpiece. As Jarvis put it “this is the sound of someone losing the plot”.
Coldplay's second took in burning cities, wars and decaying romance - if you've not cried to 'The Scientist', you're either dead or in Brother.
Having made his name in bellowing motorcycle rock and with the brassy pop of the ‘Born In The USA’ album slowly coagulating, in 1982 The Boss took the bold stand of releasing the haunting folk demos of ‘Nebraska’ rather than the full-band version. And, crammed with bleak tales of spree killers and death row inmates, it was perfectly pitched: a masterpiece of the murderously morose.
They owed something to Joy Division, yes, but if that line from ‘Obstacle 1’ about “stabbing yourself in the neck” delivered in Paul Banks’ crypt-ready baritone didn’t get you there, you’ve missed a teeth-chattering thrill.
Combining the sonic sedition of Joy Division and Interpol with nailgun melodies about death, disease, wicked cities and finger-shredding factory work, Brum’s bleakest brotherhood produced a debut as brooding and ballsy as a goth-pop Batman.
While this notorious New York duo largely transmitted gloom via music – sparse synthesized stabs foreseeing industrial and electroclash – rather than lyrics, the 10-minute murder ballad ‘Frankie Teardrop’ is ‘Suicide’’s grim exception.
Inspired by his mother’s death and taking pot-shots at religion, the corporate rat-race and Deluded Britain in general, John Lydon’s avant-garde second album was xryptic, suffocating and – true to its title – played entirely on aluminium guitars. It was described by bassist Jah Wobble as a musical version of Munch’s The Scream and seeded the serrated noisefests of Sonic Youth, Shellac and Nirvana.
Not the soundtrack to the shitty Diana Ross-starring Holiday biopic, rather the open-hearted, soul-baring third record from Lady Day herself. The cover of Ann Ronnel standard ‘Willow Weep For Me’ is sadness distilled.
Will Oldham’s first under this name – while easier listening than his Palace Brothers work – encapsulates ‘gloomy’ via vocal quaver and clanging piano. Johnny Cash deemed the title track worthy of covering on 2000’s ‘American III: Solitary Man’ – hardly festooned with belly-laughs itself.