The best "final" albums by the greatest artists
28 September 2020, 20:23
The greatest swansongs in music: the artists who delivered one last great album before bowing out.
The Smiths - Strangeways, Here We Come
By the time their fourth studio album was released, The Smiths were no more. Despite the prospect of signing to major label EMI and much critical and commercial acclaim, management hassles and inter-personal problems between the members saw guitarist Johnny Marr jump ship. Their final LP is a dark, introspective affair, with the blackly humorous Girlfriend In A Coma as the lead single and Mozzian swipes at club culture (Death Of A Disco Dancer) and record company greed (Paint A Vulgar Picture). It all ends with the heartbreaking career footnote I Won't Share You.
The Beatles - Let It Be
We KNOW that The Beatles’ final outing in the studio was actually 1969’s Abbey Road, but the Let It Be material sat on the shelf for a year and finally made an appearance in May 1970, by which time John had quit, Paul and Ringo had both recorded solo albums and George was readying his own. But as the final piece of Fab Four vinyl, Let It Be has a finality to it, from the uplifting title track, to George’s cynical I Me Mine. Lennon closes the album and the band’s career with the words “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves… and I hope we passed the audition.”
Nirvana - In Utero
For their third album - and the second for David Geffen's DGC Records - the grunge heroes tried to get away from the slick, radio-friendly sound of Nevermind by working with the notorious musician and producer Steve Albini. Much harsher in sound and in intent than Nevermind, tracks like Heart-Shaped Box and Pennyroyal Tea were considered by the label to be not commercial enough and ructions occurred. Imagine what must have happened when they heard Rape Me.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Electric Ladyland
The third and final album from The Jimi Hendrix Experience was a double - and produced under the watchful eye of Jimi himself, before he disbanded the trio. Hendrix went solo, but never released another studio LP in his lifetime. A beast of a record, it bears all the hallmarks of the psychedelic production of the time: backwards guitars, flanging and all manner of outrageous studio effects. The original sleeve, featuring 19 nude women, remains one of the most inappropriate record covers ever and Jimi hated it - no wonder it was changed for later editions.
Joy Division - Closer
The legendary Manchester band only managed to release two full studio albums within the short space of 18 months (that's if you don't include their aborted, unreleased "Warsaw" album for RCA). When their second LP, Closer, was released in June 1980, singer Ian Curtis had been dead for a month, having killed himself on the eve of a US tour. The album didn't include the hit Love Will Tear Us Apart, but ranks as one of the most harrowing, yet stirring listens of the post-punk era.
David Bowie - Blackstar
Sadly, Bowie's twenty-fifth album is now his last. It was released on 8 January 2016, his 69th birthday and just two days before his death, aged 69. It now appears that the lyrics on the LP concern the superstar's 18-month long battle with cancer and have taken on an unbearably tragic significance. But… what a career, and what an impressive way to lower the curtain on it.
The Stone Roses - The Second Coming
On reflection, five years doesn't seem too long to wait for the follow-up to an amazing debut album, but expectations were high for the Roses' second outing. Some say they pulled it off, others say they couldn't have delivered after losing the momentum that Madchester had given them. Still, with tracks like Love Spreads and Ten Storey Love Song, it's a fine record… and although they've released some new tracks since, there's unlikely to be a proper follow-up.
Oasis - Dig Out Your Soul
At the time, nobody was expecting this would be the last hurrah of Oasis. And the band's seventh album didn't really set the world on fire, although there were some good songs on there: The Shock Of The Lightning, Falling Down and Liam's I'm Outta Time. Time will tell if this will be Oasis's epitaph.
The Verve - Forth
The Verve had announced their split in 1999 and Richard Ashcroft had carved a respectable solo career. It was a surprise, therefore, to see the band get back together for their first new album since Urban Hymns, albeit without guitarist Simon Tong. The resulting LP, Forth, made No 1 in the UK albums chart and boasts one surefire classic in Love Is Noise. It seems pretty unlikely that the band will regroup.
Jeff Buckley - Grace
Tragic Jeff Buckley only completed one album in his lifetime before he accidentally drowned on May 29 1997. But Grace is an amazing piece of work, which showcases the singer's fragile yet powerful voice. Aside from the title track, you have the cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, Last Goodbye, Lilac Wine and Dream Brother.
The Jam - The Gift
One of the greatest British bands ever closed their career with this brief album that saw frontman Paul Weller exploring soul and R&B, alienating some of his audience - and bandmates - in the process. Still, what a way to go: the album features the No 1 double A-side Town Called Malice, backed with Precious and saw Weller indulge his Britpop influences with Just Who Is The Five O'Clock Hero?
The White Stripes - Icky Thump
The sixth album from Jack and Meg featured the great song You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You're Told) and was a mature, more thoughtful entry from the duo. Jack claimed that there was a central theme of "feeling positive" about the album, but the band's days were numbered. With Meg suffering from stage fright and anxiety, the pair officially announced their split four years later.
Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks
It's hard to believe that the punk pioneers were only active recording artists for around a year, releasing their debut single, Anarchy In The UK, in November 1976 and their one studio album in October of 1977. And that was it. The other albums that followed either didn't feature the full line-up, had "guest" vocalists, or were re-hashes of old demos. Punk rock, eh?
The Maccabees - Marks To Prove It
The band's fourth album gave them huge critical and commercial acclaim going straight in at No.1 in the UK album charts.But the celebrations were short lived when they announced they were going to split up and they played their final, emotional shows in 2017.
R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now
R.E.M. released 15 albums in their 30 year career, and Collapse Into Now was a low-key way to end such a glorious run. The band knew that they would be calling it a day as they entered the studio, but the result is defiantly un-sentimental and features guest appearances by Patti Smith, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder and Peaches.