The Big Issue : Edition 447
42 THEBIGISSUE6–25DEC2013 NOT ALL ‘BREAK-up albums’ are created equal. When New York pop duo Cults released their second LP, Static, in October it was labelled a ‘break-up album’. But this was more than a collection of songs with lyrics about breaking up; the band members were a couple, and they made the album after breaking up with each other. “So much of the idea of our band istiedup–orwastiedup,Ishouldsay–inthefactofus being a couple,” says Brian Oblivion, who forms one half of Cults with Madeline Follin. There are countless bands built around the union of central lovers, but fewer that persist in the face of a break-up. Or divorce. It seems symbolic that rock’n’roll’s most celebrated divorcees, Jack and Meg White of the now-dormant White Stripes, spent years pretending they were brother and sister. “When they’re brother and sister, you care more about the music, not the relationship,” Jack White once explained. The model of a working relationship forged from an amiable divorce seems charmed in hindsight, given his divorce from his second wife, Karen Elson, resulted both in a public falling- out and a bitter 2012 solo album, Blunderbuss (although ex- wife Elson does feature on the album’s backing vocals). Indie rock’s longest-running divorcees were never The White Stripes, but Portland indie band Quasi. The duo of songwriter Sam Coomes and drummer Janet Weiss (of Sleater-Kinney and Wild Flag fame) formed in 1993 when the pair was married, but the relationship fell apart during the making of Quasi’s debut album, R&B Transmogrification (1997). “Perhaps it gives a somewhat unusual depth to our relationship [in] that we’ve gone through high highs and low lows together,” Coomes said in a 2001 interview. This year Quasi released their ninth album, Mole City. In the pre-internet past, private relationships within bands often remained just that. Even infamous examples like Fleetwood Mac (whose inter-band affairs were the stuff of soap opera), the Eurythmics (featuring exes Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart), and Blondie (whose founding couple Chris Stein and Debbie Harry split in the 1980s) came in an era when music mattered more than biography. In the age of media saturation, the story matters as much as the music. This is evident in the ups and downs of American pop-folk duo The Civil Wars, whose story is arguably more interesting than their music. Singer Joy Williams and guitarist John Paul White were each married to other people, but their lyrics and on-stage chemistry meant are-they-or-aren’t-they speculation was rife throughout the band’s short history. Their debut album, Barton Hollow, was released in 2011 but they cancelled a 2012 word tour due to “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition”. By the time their self-titled second record was released – hitting #1 in the US and #2 in the UK – they were no longer on speaking terms. BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER IS YOUR BANDMATE.