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Listen to our 50 darkest albums as a Spotify playlist
20Talk Talk Talk (1981)
On their second, the Furs’ aloof, scratchy gloom summed up an era in moody teenage life so thoroughly that John Hughes named his film after its first single: ‘Pretty In Pink’.
19Songs Of Love And Hate (1971)
No countdown of gloom would be complete without Leonard Cohen. A Canadian poet-turned folkish singer-songwriter who moved to New York in the ’60s and lurked at the edges of Andy Warhol’s Factory scene, such was Cohen’s command of a reserved, regal darkness that beautiful women would routinely throw themselves at his feet in a vain attempt to make it all better.
Throughout the ’80s, they had been gradually death-ening their disco. And 1990’s ‘Violator’ was the culmination of their enigmatic tech-disco, laying the blueprint for industrial pop for the decade to come. It was hardly the dourest tome of the goth-pop era, but the sinister squeals and graveyard grooves felt so evil they sounded like the devil gone dancing.
When the X Factor fucktards removed the ironic apostrophes from “Heroes” for their charity cover version, they committed one of music’s most hilarious acts of cultural vandalism. “Heroes” are thin on the ground in the labyrinth sepia lair of Bowie’s most Cold War-frosted Berlin album.
16The Downward Spiral (1994)
Trent Reznor chose to record this arena-ready industrial metal opus in the Cielo Drive house where Sharon Tate was killed by the acolytes of Charles Manson. He built a studio there which he named Le Pig, after the blood graffiti scrawled on the door by Tate’s murderers. The horrific venue ensured ‘The Downward Spiral’ scrubbed away NIN’s traces of fakery.
Not so much depressing as oppressive – for their final version one outing, Wire ramped up the dark synth undertow, coming across as command-barking tazer-wielding sadists in a future fascist state.
14The Drift (2006)
Eleven years in the making, a lifetime in the digesting, Walker’s follow-up to 1995’s scree-tastic ‘Tilt’ was even more unrelenting and bleak. The effect was a series of flickering snapshots of the horrors of the modern world – the 21st century being shown a Big Brother-style montage of its ‘worst bits’. Nightmarish, portentous and awash with theatrical jarrings and disturbing bolts of noise.
An album that has lit many a lonely student the way to dusky death, Mitchell’s 1971 classic details her split from Graham Nash, her youthful divorce and the trauma of giving up a daughter for adoption, all delivered wrapped in inconsolable poetry with a roll of piano or thrum of acoustic. Sad, sublime.
12Vauxhall & I (1994)
It’s bookended by two chest-bursters, but between ‘Now My Heart Is Full’ and ‘Speedway’, Moz’s most all-round coherent solo record was overwhelmingly drenched in a drizzly, cavernous echo – like it was playing in the flat next door, as you sat, alone, on a Tuesday: the only signal that you were still alive.
The Bristol trio’s debut slowed Blue Note jazz and hip-hop breaks to a zombie trudge – but it was Beth Gibbons that brought the emotional heaviness, her torrid cries like a torch singer awakening from cryogenic deep-freeze.