Like Rob, the record-obsessed protagonist of Nick Hornby's novel High Fidelity, you likely have your own list of all-time breakup albums. Dylan's Blood on the Tracks might make the cut, or maybe Richard and Linda Thompson's Shoot Out the Lights, George Jones' Battle or Bill Morrissey's Standing Eight. The last album, especially, deserves to be heard by anyone interested in making art out of the muck of autobiography. Opening with "Handsome Molly," in which stolen folk lines lead to a bittersweet reverie, and closing with "These Cold Fingers," in which everything and everyone slips away, "like trying to hold water, like trying to hold sand," the album mines private loss for images that capture the most undeniable truths and therefore help us go on. Like Standing Eight, Morrissey's new album, Something I Saw or Thought I Saw (the title pinches a line from Robert Frost), also emerges from a divorce, this one from wife/manager/producer Ellen Karas. The singer begins with a conversation between two strangers: "My story is not one hard to tell/and I just want to tell it again." The tale he tells, over and over, is simple, and yet it's the only one worth telling: that love, like life, is a mystery. "Leave the key in the mailbox now," he sings on "Moving Day," "and kiss me once again/Kiss me for the ones who say/all love comes to an end/Though we never let it go that way/we start alone again." When such lines come together with that voice -- as if the singer's vocal cords had been ripped out and replaced with barbed wire -- all sentimentality and pretension are cut away. Only the resigned yet abiding truth of a good song remains.
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