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Listen to our 50 darkest albums as a Spotify playlist
10808s & Heartbreak (2008)
After his mother died, Kanye West beat himself up with the same magnified solipsism that he had once directed at proclaiming his own majesty. He took Auto-Tune – the garish, oily sound of mindless over-consumption – and reinvented it as a new blues. ‘808s…’ was a vocoded funeral-dirge, a neon lament – the slick and twisted gospel of a man who was deliberately tearing himself apart so that he might one day be reborn.
9The Man Comes Around (2002)
In which Cash set the bar for a generation of swansongs, with a little help from Rick Rubin. A testament to its wounded, regretful power is that Cash’s version of ‘Hurt’ has pretty much become the definitive one.
8 I Am A Bird Now (2005)
The theme of ‘I Am A Bird Now’ is of transformation, sung by one who feels trapped in his own skin. Antony Hegarty’s Mercury winner was sung for the outsiders, and if its mood was mournful, it was also hopeful, in love with humanity.
7Pink Moon (1972)
The stark, pared-down sound of The Keats Of Folk and his acoustic guitar, recorded in the span of just four hours (at midnight, naturally), ‘Pink Moon turned out to be Drake’s swansong. He was dead, at 26, from an overdose of anti-depressants. Irony alert!
Sod ‘Lovecats’, let’s mope! Arguably the album that invented goth, ‘Pornography’ was the first of The Cure’s Trilogy Of Doom that would suck ‘Disintegration’ and ‘Bloodflowers’ into its vampiric cataclysms of sound with the intention of making anguish sound awesome. And what exactly do you expect from an album that opens with the line, “It doesn’t matter if we all die”? Kazoo solos?
The flat drone of the madrigals set against the flat drone of Nico’s voice have never made ‘Desertshore’ an easy listen. A cold stone obelisk to the loneliness that sat so at odds to her extraordinary physical beauty.
4Meat Is Murder (1985)
Child abuse, more child abuse, animal death, getting stabbed at a funfair: The Smiths do not yield easy winners in the gloom stakes, but ‘Meat Is Murder’, from its coldly ironic cover down to its sampled bone-saw was Morrissey reining-in the Wildean elements to get in touch with his inner Beckett.
3In Utero (1993)
What else says love like imagining you and your betrothed are conjoined parasites, feeding off one another’s waste? Or imagining her umbilical cord as a ‘noose’? Or writing a song called ‘Rape Me’? Or… oh, you get the picture.
2Let It Come Down (2001)
A 90-piece orchestra and a bunch of rhymes about heroin have always gone together like steak & kidney for Jason Pierce. In 2001, he shot his last big injection of major-label cash to make the orchestras sound goliath, even as the lines about burning holes in his clothes looked into a world miniaturised by pain, drugs, and the pain of drugs.
1The Holy Bible (1994)
Lyrically, ‘The Holy Bible’ is another level entirely. If we didn’t know the personalities involved, pro-death penalty and anti-political correctness sentiment (on ‘Archives Of Pain’ and ‘PCP’) might be dealbreakers. Instead, they work as part of a moving opus of fanatical self-examination and despair at humanity.