Everyone can relate to a well-written piece of sad music. At least, everybody can relate to one when the moment is right; that is, when they feel the need to wallow in their misery or acknowledge their softer, more vulnerable side. There is something cleansing about listening to a beautifully sad song — it brings out strong emotions and reminds us what we are capable of feeling. I feel more “human” after connecting to a tragic song, more in touch with myself.
Solemn songs are easy to connect with because, for the most part, artists are drawing directly from their own emotional bank when writing them. They feel depressed or lonely and translate their mood directly into emotionally rich, genuine music. Indeed, artists do this when they write happy songs too, but the melodies in sad songs pack an emotional punch that hits the listener straight in the heart. They inspire us and humble us at the same time, and in my opinion, carry more gravity than happy songs.
Some artists have truly mastered this ability to translate their depression into music. It takes true skill for an artist to evoke strong emotions from a listener, and the following list includes artists who are able to harness their depression in an impactful way:
1) Matchbox 20 (Songwriter: Dave Thomas):
Dave Thomas uses Matchbox 20’s songs to communicate the issues raging inside his head. In songs like “Unwell” and “Push,” he offers unmistakably genuine examples of how he is simply unable to cope with life, romanticism and his own emotions. He writes about his secret desire to assume full control over his lover, how he talks to himself and doubts his sanity. The band’s background music is always beautiful, but the hopeless morbidity of his lyrics and the way he inserts tremendous passion into his singing truly impact me as a listener.
2) The Smiths (Songwriter: Morrissey):
Morrissey is truly the loneliest songwriter I have ever heard. In “Unloveable,” his lyrics communicate just what you’d expect: that he is undesirable to any woman. His wailing voice croons about how he is strange, plain and devoid of happiness. In “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,” he wails about how he spends time with people who don’t care about him and who make him feel bad about himself.
The really unique thing about The Smiths, though, is that they pair such depressing and lonely lyrics with upbeat, groovy music. The combination can be misleading, but paying attention to Morrissey’s lyrics is a quick giveaway that the man is lonely and emotionally disturbed.
3) The Script (Songwriter: Danny O’Donoghue):
I might get a little flack from my male friends for writing about The Script, but it would be plain wrong to exclude them from impactful emotional artists — they do it so well. A large majority of Script songs are about being hopelessly heartbroken, and O’Donoghue communicates this theme so well. He paints pictures of a man waiting relentlessly on a street corner for his girl to come back to him (“The Man Who Can’t be Moved”), another of a drunk and lonely man desperately screaming for his girl to give him another chance (“Nothing”). Many can relate to these feelings of hopeless and seemingly pointless attachment to someone, and he portrays them to a T. On top of this, the background guitar in Script songs is clean, sad-sounding, but beautiful as well.
4) Counting Crows (Songwriter: Adam Duritz)
Adam Duritz writes some beautifully depressing music. An example of this is the song “Round Here,” in which an unmistakably sad guitar riff is accompanied by stories of how Adam is horribly out of touch with his lover whom he cannot stop thinking about. He sings of how he hears her crying and doesn’t know why, how she’s “slipping through his hands,” how he “got lost sometime.” His singing could almost be described more accurately as moaning or whining, but he does so in a way that does not annoy the listener. He seems genuinely lost and helpless.
In a musical world filled with apple bottom jeans and swaggy boyfriends, it’s great to get some authenticity once in a while. These artists’ “swag” derives from how they put themselves fully into their music. Give them a listen if you ever feel the need to get in touch with your vulnerable side.