Love. So sweet when it starts, so bittersweet when it ends. Or sometimes, it’s just plain bitter. Musicians have a way of summing up the myriad turns love can take once the thrill is gone, whether it’s Paul Simon reciting break-up escape routes in “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” The Black Keys remembering a toxic ex and vowing to do better with their “Next Girl,” Led Zeppelin howling through a good-bye in “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” Bill Withers alleging his consent to being used and abused in “Use Me,” or Cee Lo Green accepting ugly rejection with a succinct “Fuck You.” The following playlist compiled by myself and select CL Music Team members takes all these turns and more.
“Awkward,” San Cisco. A relationship destined for failure devolves throughout this sugary two-and-a-half-minute pop ditty, the darling boy-girl call-and-response vocals relating a two-sided story that starts with a game of phone tag and ends in stalking. (“I thought I saw you last night, get out of my life, you’ve been stalking me for days …”)
“I Wouldn’t Treat a Dog (The Way You Treated Me),” Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland. “Got me cryin’ for the love that I’m needin’, beggin’ like a dog for a bone,” the soulful Tennessee bluesman croons in this funkin’ groovin’ reproach to the woman who went MIA whenever times got tough.
“I Break Horses,” Smog. Bill Callahan, aka Smog, wrote the ultimate anti-commitment, hit-it-and-quit-it song with its refrain, “I break horses, I don’t tend to them.” There’s no love here, only selfish devouring followed by complete regurgitation. Don’t beg, don’t plead, don’t expect him to stick around. “Tonight I’m swimming to my favorite island,” Callahan intones in that steely, heartless voice of his, “and I don’t want to see you swimming behind.” —Shae Krispinsky
“How Fucking Romantic,” The Magnetics Fields. This track from the Magnetic Fields’ already morose oeuvre stands out for its exceptionally nasty bite. Between calling the sunset “tacky” and the moon “vulgar,” Stephin Meritt’s protagonist is clearly not in a very sentimental mood. —Evan Tokarz
“Anti Love Song,” Betty Davis. Miles Davis’ ex-wife embraced her badass bitch side as a funk songstress in the 1970s, and here she moans and growls like a cat through all the reasons why she doesn’t want to love the object of her affection, mostly because she’s afraid they’ll possess each other a little too thoroughly. “Just as hard as I’d be loving you, boy, well you know you’d be loving me harder / that’s why I don’t want to love you … I know what you’d do to me.”
“She’s My Ex,” ALL. A short, sweet break-up anthem shedding light on the ambivalence of an ended relationship with lyrics like, “She’ my ex, she’ll cross my mind a thousand times today.” By its end, the song’s message is clear — go ahead, drive that last stake through the heart of your dying relationship and move on... “She’s just my ex. Nothing more nothing less, but she’s still my ex.” —Nicole Kibert
“Song for the Dumped,” Ben Folds Five. A hostile keys-pounding Folds demands a refund for wasted time and feelings in this song’s refrain: “Give me my money back, give me my money back, you bitch! / I want my money back … and don’t forget, to give me back my black T-shirt!”
“Bad News,” Owen. Mike Kinsella’s pen is his greatest weapon and it shows on Owen track “Bad News,” which is, put simply, the ultimate burn. His scathing critique is masked in solemn cello, twinkling pianos, and open-tuned guitar, and features one of the meanest lyrics ever: “whoever you think is watching you from across the room — they aren’t / if anything they feel sorry for you / ’cause you try so hard … you’re a has-been that never was.” Ouch. —Ray Roa
“She Hates Me,” Big Boi featuring Kid Cudi. He frittered away his woman’s tender feelings with overwork and neglect, and he’s finally feeling the chill of her disregard. And even though he recognizes that she hates him, he asserts, “I’mma make her love me again.”
“Smile,” Lily Allen. The UK pop songstress takes pleasure in the pain of an ex who left her and is now calling her for consolation in the candy-coated smash hit single. “At first, when I see you cry, it makes me smile, yeah it makes me smile / At worst, I feel bad for a while, but then I just smile, I go ahead and smile.”
“Love Rhymes with Hideous Car Wreck,” The Blood Brothers. The chorus of this angst-filled post-hardcore ode, “Love rhymes with pity now, love rhymes with sympathy now,” is driven uncomfortably home by Johnny Whitney’s high-pitched screams. —Shannon Kelly
“Our Riotous Defects,” of Montreal. Kevin Barnes waxes on the crazy girl he loves and their utterly dysfunctional relationship, offering detailed accounts in spoken word interludes about her wacked-out tendencies and his failed attempts to please her. “Whatever your eyes caught, I bought / Still we fought.”
“No Children,” Mountain Goats. Is there a song more bitter and spiteful? We have the so-called Alpha couple in the throes of their self-imposed damnation, a man and wife with death grips on each other so they don’t fall into the abyss of misery alone. Any attempts to extricate themselves from the relationship fail because being and making each other miserable are the only twisted pleasures they have. When John Darnielle sings, “I hope you die, I hope we both die,” it sounds more like a perverse toast than a threat. —Shae Krispinsky
“Knife,” Grizzly Bear. The sharp blade of betrayal cuts like a knife in the hauntingly stunning ode: “I want you to know, when I look in your eyes / With every blow, comes another lie.”
“I Want My Mojo Back,” Scott H. Biram. A country punk ode with gospel-tinny backing vocals, its narrator determined to take back what’s rightfully his from the black magic woman who stole it. “She made a black cat moan, she took my coon dick bone, she took my mojo hand.” (Raccoon penises have been tied to virility, so the double entendre here is particularly clever, in a backwoods sort of way.)
Check out my 'Ain't Talking 'Bout Love' playlist featuring some of these tracks and others fitting with this theme below. Or go direct to Spotify.