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Sick of all these loved-up couples and romantic gestures? This Valentine’s Day, embrace the heartbreak with our ten favourite cynical, broken-hearted, anti-love songs of all time.
“I hope you die. I hope we both die.” No Children is the epitome of an anti-love song and probably the most vicious depiction of divorce ever written. Realising the inevitable is coming, the narrator and his partner lean into the hate, despair and hopelessness of their situation, deliberately alienating their few remaining friends, embracing the pain they cause and vowing to go down “hand in unlovable hand.”
We’ve all had relationships that dragged on much longer than they should have. On Gone For Good (off The Shins’ brilliant second album Chutes Too Narrow), James Mercer acknowledges that his departure should have come a long time ago (“It took me all of a year/To put the poison pill to your ear/But now I stand on honest ground”). Eventually, realisation dawns, the sun shines through the clouds and the road beckons. Gone For Good isn’t bitter or cruel, it’s just a determined and resolute goodbye, a definite line drawn under an unsuccessful relationship.
Mitchell’s song is all about lost innocence. As clouds once appeared like “ice cream castles in the air”, eventually they just become premonitions of bad weather. So too does love start off exciting and full of promise, only to devolve into heartbreak and pain. The song has taken on an extra dimension of sadness after its use in the best (and most painful) scene in Love Actually.
It’s rare to get through a whole Damien Jurado gig without seeing several people in floods of tears, such is the Portland singer’s talent for soul-crushing heartbreakers (only the bravest would listen to his song Medication in public). What Were The Chances ups the ante with its tale of a doomed relationship where the narrator tries in vain to convince his married beloved that they’re not doing anything wrong (“We’re only meeting in hotel rooms and not your home”), only to eventually be left alone, pleading with her to “please pick up the phone”.
“Love is watching someone die.” Ben Gibbard cuts right to the bleakest aspect of love, the idea that staying together means one of you will have to watch the other one die. You could view it as a positive, the knowledge that one of you will have the other there as you go into the dark (to paraphrase another DCFC song), or you can view it as an excellent reason to stay single forever.
Dylan has mastered the art of the bitter fare thee well, but nothing tops this broken-hearted goodbye to Suze Rotolo as she leaves him to follow her dreams to Europe. She asks repeatedly if there’s anything nice he’d like from her travels (“something fine made of silver or of golden”), but he insists that all he wants is her return. As the song wears on – and he realises she’s not coming back – he accepts defeat and opts for a really nice pair of boots instead.
Maps belongs in the same “crying at the airport” category as Dylan’s Boots Of Spanish Leather, Karen O pleading with her then-boyfriend (Liars’ Angus Andrew) to “wait, they don’t love you like I love you.” The video amplifies the heartbreak, Karen crying real tears when she thought Angus wasn’t coming to the filming session.
Love doesn’t even factor into The Stones’ kiss off to an upwardly mobile lover. This thorny and resentful country ballad sneers at her new fancy life as the narrator wallows in squalor and addiction. It’s easy to see through the veneer of reverse snobbery, but you can imagine that while he’ll stick to his promise of roses on her grave, she’ll have long since deleted his number (so to speak).
R.E.M.’s first big hit is up there with Born In The USA and White Wedding in the pantheon of songs that remain misunderstood because of their titles. The One I Love is an almost callous anti-love song to a former partner, dismissing them as nothing more than “a simple prop to occupy my time”. Ouch.
The first time the narrator of The Dubliner’s lovesick ballad (based on Patrick Kavanagh’s stunning poem) sees his beloved, he predicts the exact torment and heartbreak that will follow. Still, he follows his heart right into the mire: “I saw the danger and I passed along the enchanted way.” He realises his crucial error, forlornly stating that “I had loved not as I should a creature made of clay.” Resentment is fine, but is there anything worse than the conclusion that things fell apart because they were too good for you? Just say no, kids.
Valentine’s Day doesn’t just have to be about love. Discover some of the events happening across the weekend for you, your friends, or your loved ones here.