As the date looms, February 14th is meant to signify a celebration of romantic love in our lives. However, for many, Valentine’s Day is dreaded- perhaps we choose to be single, are reeling from a recent heartbreak or just despise the hearts and flowers traditions?
Whatever your anti-Valentine’s feelings, I hope these albums offer a welcome respite from the romance that seems to be all around us this time of year.
Released in 2020, Fenne Lily’s second album sees her being more introspective than ever before, as she deals with self-exploration in her twenties with witty lyricism and tender instrumentation. Whilst her first album felt centred around a break-up, ‘BREACH’ delves into the lessons she’s learnt since and deals with themes of ageing, identity and finding comfort in solitude, with not a hint of longing for romance to be found.
The track ‘Berlin’ details her solo trip around Europe as she learns to grow comfortable with her own company, exiting with the words; ‘it’s not hard to be alone anymore’. ‘I, Nietzsche’ is a satirical criticism of an ex-partner who was seemingly more interested in nihilist philosophical readings than participating in the actual relationship, leaving Lily with the all-too-familiar feeling of loneliness. ‘Solipsism’ is Lily’s true criticism of herself, realising she is both ‘empty at one and twenty’ against a hard rock ensemble equipped with an organ.
The highlight of the record for me is ‘I Used To Hate My Body But Now I Just Hate You’. This track sees Lily describing how she had previously changed herself for a partner, as she describes in the words ‘you justify and satiate my hunger / for not feeling alright’. The song climaxes into a key change as twinkling guitar and piano join her, demonstrating the strength of these feelings.
The closer ‘Laundry and Jet Lag’ explores Lily’s destructive habits- from smoking to going back to her ex; ‘making and breaking / new habits forming / not all propensities come with a warning like you’. The final verse of the album sees Lily singing about ‘doing her laundry’, an unfortunate consequence of growing up, in an effort to rid ‘the stains’ left from heartbreak, signalling a fresh start in her life.
Feelings of identity and solitude remain at the heart of PJ Harvey’s 1993 album ‘Rid of Me’ and is the perfect companion for an angst-ridden reminisce of past relationships. Despite its sometimes-smothering instrumentation, the album has innate loneliness to it, as it was written after Harvey split up with her former bandmates, leaving only her and a guitar against the world.
We are privy to a full range of Harvey’s emotions, from the vengeful opening track ‘Rid of Me’, to the confessional ‘Hook’, describing an abusive relationship with Harvey’s vocals buried under distorted guitar. She continues to explore female anger on the track ‘Snake’, written from the perspective of Eve after she’s tricked into eating the forbidden apple, as Harvey shouts the words ‘you salty dog / you filthy liar’.
There’s a dramatic shift in instrumentation with the harrowing strings on ‘Man-Size Sextet’. The strings create an uncomfortable dissonance with Harvey’s voice as she sings satirical words written from a male perspective; ‘Man-sized got my leather boots on / Got my girl and she’s a wow’.
Harvey channels this same powerful persona but makes it ultra-feminine in ’50ft Queenie’, returning to her grunge rock roots as she tells the story of a giant female stomping around singing; ‘I’m the king of the world’. In a 1993 interview, Harvey describes the song as ‘how I’d like to be and how I feel a lot of the time’, describing the protagonist of the song with one of her best quotes; ‘she feasts on men quite a lot and that’s a good form of protein’.
The album throws a wild abandon to attitudes of conventional love, writing from both male and female perspectives with explorations of emotions that can be deeply unsettling at times. However, at its core, Harvey exhibits love in its true form- from the lustful obsession to all the nasty bits in between.
Despite its deceiving title, the 2021 album from Lindsey Jordan of ‘Snail Mail’ explores a world of leaving and longing for ex-partners and all the subsequent feelings of heartbreak. The album feels like a confessional release for Jordan, as directs several songs to specific partners, making it feel more personal than ever.
She explores feelings of frustration on tracks like the opener ‘Valentine’, singing the words ‘Why’d you wanna erase me darling Valentine / You always know where to find me when you change your mind’. She struggles with finding her identity after the loss of a partner in songs like Madonna; ‘I’ve come to hate my body/cause now it’s not yours’.
A main theme throughout the album is addiction, with Jordan also admitting to poor coping mechanisms to fuel her fixation on a partner. This can be seen in the sultry ‘Ben Franklin’, comparing ‘wanting to call’ to a ‘relapse’ in judgement. Similarly, on ‘Forever (sailing)’ – a moving piano ballad in which she admits to feeding ‘an obsession’ but acknowledging that it’s now become unhealthy.
The album does have some tender moments, as seen on the closer ‘Mia’, that strips Sterling down to her voice and her guitar as she admits she has to leave old lovers behind in order to move on; ‘I’ve gotta grow up now / No, I can’t keep holding on to you anymore’. A minute into the song, piano and strings enter, growing into a whirling arrangement that makes the song feel even more moving, the raw emotion shining through as Jordan’s voice gets more choked up.
All three of these albums champion women facing the world – with or without romantic love. If you are looking for something to listen to whilst pigging out on chocolates or cracking open a bottle of wine – alone or with your loved one – I heartily recommend them.
Written by Adele Fennessy
To listen to our Spotify playlist of the recommended albums, please click here.