The "final" albums by the greatest artists

31 December 2023, 19:00 | Updated: 13 June 2024, 10:29

Final album covers from Nirvana, The Beatles, The Verve, David Bowie and The Smiths
Final album covers from Nirvana, The Beatles, The Verve, David Bowie and The Smiths. Picture: Press

Swansongs in music... how did your favourite artist call time on a legendary career?

Radio X

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  1. The Smiths - Strangeways, Here We Come

    The Smiths - Strangeways, Here We Come album cover
    The Smiths - Strangeways, Here We Come album cover. Picture: Press

    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.

  2. 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.

    Nirvana - In Utero album artwork
    Nirvana - In Utero album artwork. Picture: Press
  3. The Beatles - Let It Be

    The Beatles - Let It Be album cover
    The Beatles - Let It Be album cover. Picture: Press

    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.”

  4. The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Electric Ladyland

    The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Electric Ladyland album cover
    The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Electric Ladyland album cover. Picture: Press

    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.

  5. Joy Division - Closer

    Joy Division - Closer album artwork
    Joy Division - Closer album artwork. Picture: Press

    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.

  6. David Bowie - Blackstar

    David Bowie - Blackstar album cover
    David Bowie - Blackstar album cover. Picture: Press

    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.

  7. The Stone Roses - The Second Coming

    The Stone Roses - The Second Coming album cover
    The Stone Roses - The Second Coming album cover. Picture: Press

    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.

  8. Oasis - Dig Out Your Soul

    Oasis - Dig Out Your Soul album cover
    Oasis - Dig Out Your Soul album cover. Picture: Press

    At the time, nobody was expecting this would be the last hurrah of Oasis. The band's seventh album included some decent material 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.

  9. The Verve - Forth

    The Verve - Forth album cover
    The Verve - Forth album cover. Picture: Press

    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.

  10. 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.

    Jeff Buckley - Grace album cover
    Jeff Buckley - Grace album cover. Picture: Press
  11. The Jam - The Gift

    The Jam - The Gift album cover
    The Jam - The Gift album cover. Picture: Press

    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?

  12. The White Stripes - Icky Thump

    The White Stripes - Icky Thump album cover
    The White Stripes - Icky Thump album cover. Picture: Press

    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.

  13. Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks

    Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks album cover
    Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks album cover. Picture: Press

    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?

  14. R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now

    R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now album cover
    R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now album cover. Picture: Press

    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.