Breaking up blows. But if there's any bright side to the storm of emotions that makes it hard to eat/sleep/function like a normal human that follows in the wake of a breakup, it's the chance to do some really indulgent, fully acceptable wallowing. And for that, you need a good breakup album.
Shelby Lynne, who won a Best New Artist Grammy in 2001 after releasing I Am Shelby Lynne, said, “That album came from the most vulnerable, desperate place.” We feel you.
Artists create their best art when they're tortured (see Mary J. Blige, Robert Downey Jr.). And Lynne, who plays KCRW's Berkeley Street Sessions concert series tomorrow night, made the best breakup album of all time.
I Am Shelby Lynne doesn't waste any time. The first line of “Your Lies” contains a plea that tumbles immediately on the heels of an accusation. Following a quick flash of rumbling drums, she brays, “Your lies won't leave me alone/You used to say you loved me, didja?” Is there any better summation of the feeling that follows the punch to the gut the announcement “I want to break up” delivers? She then reveals he told her over the phone that what they had was “only business,” and proceeds to rip apart her room. We always wanted to do that but never had the guts. Living vicariously through someone who does is very cathartic.
The reality of the breakup has set in, and you're comforting yourself with his cluelessness. Quietly indignant, Lynne murmurs in “Leaving',” “It's time for me to spend some time alone/I'm tired of trying to make this your happy home.” Yes, that's your cool, self-righteous speech to re-enforce how much he's really gonna miss you. Inside, what you're saying is: This motherfucker. Don't know whatcha got till it's gone, asshole!
Now go get really drunk and celebrate your freedom with your girlfriends, who are happy to have you back (at least until they're sick of your constant analysis of the split). “You gotta keep it movin', it's not gonna change, you gotta change it,” Lynne says wisely in “Life is Bad.”
Of course, that insight only lasts as long as that song. You're alone with your hangover, it's gray outside (metaphorically — this is L.A.), and you haven't left the couch in two days. He's already with somebody else (who is this bitch) and you're left smelling that old shirt of his you still have while “Thought It Would Be Easier” plays. Repeatedly.
Eventually, you re-emerge into the land of the living (“Gotta Get Back”), date someone new. You're able to smirk at your ex's pathetic existence (“Why Can't You Be?”).
Until he calls. He misses you. He wants you back. You go over. When you wake up, he tells you it was a mistake. Back to square one (“Lookin' Up”).
But time passes, and you're in a calmer, better place. You're able to smile the next time you run into him, maybe even make peace. “You know at times I wondered/If you ever thought of me,” Lynne sings in “Dreamsome.”
[NOTE: “Where I'm From” really has nothing to do with an ex. It's a love letter to where Lynne grew up. But considering her dad shot and killed her mother and then himself while she and her sister were home, your being torn up over a breakup seems a little petty now, doesn't it?]
If this were a movie, the album would end here. But Lynne caps it with a slow, sad burner called “Black Light Blue” that feels like something Billie Holiday wrote after a particularly rough bender. Hey, you probably already broke up with that new dude, anyway.
Shelby Lynne's KCRW Berkeley Street Sessions concert will be broadcast on Morning Becomes Eclectic on February 6.