With her 2019 release, Crushing, Australian singer-songwriter Julia Jacklin has created a simply beautiful, remarkably succinct album exploring everyday pain in specific yet universal ways. Crushing is a breakup album, broadly speaking, but it’s from the perspective of the person who did the breaking, and that fresh angle gives the songs a compellingly complex resonance.
The album flows well and, with only ten songs, covers a lot of emotional ground. The further you travel into Crushing, the more immersed you become in Jacklin’s emotional space and the harder it is to stop listening. “Body” is a slow and steady start to this journey, with enjoyably rich details about a boyfriend who takes pleasure in “getting away with” smoking in an airplane bathroom, even though it’s obvious to everyone he’s doing it. Jacklin ponders almost casually how this now-ex could damage her life via exploiting her body, because of an old photograph he might still be in possession of. It’s a subtly sharp way to examine the potentially dark consequences of relationships and breakups, especially for women.
“Head Alone” continues the theme of body autonomy and the desire for it, with Jacklin singing a refrain of “I don’t want to be touched all the time /I raised my body up to be mine” and “I’ll say it ‘til he understands/you can love somebody without using your hands.” Combined with a relatively sunny, upbeat instrumentation, Jacklin’s lyrics add a sharp aftertaste that makes the song stick.
Although most of the album is a slow-burn, with just a couple songs verging on sleepy, there are a few tracks that kick up the pop-rock energy. “Pressure to Party” accurately reflects the agitation brought on someone out of a relationship who is beset on all sides by pressure to cope in various ways. “You Were Right” near the end of the album cleverly has Jacklin singing that now out of a relationship with someone, she is listening to that band they loved or eating at that restaurant they recommended. And she likes it! But while the singer can admit their ex was right about those things, they were wrong about her.
Throughout the album, Jacklin’s lyrics shine with subtle details that make them distinct from the kinds of songs you would expect to hear on a “breakup album.” There’s the aching depiction of falling out of love, or rather completely stalling out in a relationship, in “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You.” There’s the glimpse inside a desperate hookup with the singer urging the man to “tell me I’m the love of your life/just for a night/…I don’t care for truth when I’m lonely,” in “Good Guy.” The album’s emotional journey comes to a perfect close with the last two tracks, which respectively cast an eye back towards the beginning of the relationship, and assess the damage after the breakup.
“Turn Me Down” features Jacklin’s boldest performance on the album, as she lets the music drop out halfway through and re-build as she repeats “please just turn me down/ why won’t you turn me down,” urging the recipient of the song to reject her before they both get burned by their relationship. The intense vulnerability is followed by “Comfort,” which sums up the crucial point of the album. Jacklin reassures herself that she will “get well soon… [And] be fine to see everyone.” But she also has to reassure herself that her ex will be just fine and that while she doesn’t know how he’s doing exactly, she doesn’t have a right to know. “You can’t be the one to hold him when you were the one who left,” she sings, and that bitter truth is at the heart of Crushing. Ending the relationship with a person she couldn’t feel herself loving anymore was the right thing to do, but those prior years of love still exist. It’s not easy to break it off when there isn’t a “reason” other than a metaphorical change in the weather. On the lovely Crushing, Jacklin clearly and concisely digs into knotty emotional terrain and comes out with an undeniably new kind of breakup album.