10 Best Final Albums
You always hear about great first albums. But how often do heated conversations center on last albums? That’s usually because by the time a band finally gives up and fades away, their records have turned into messy, barely listenable copies of what used to make them so important. If a band is smart, shrewd or careless enough, their last album can make almost as strong an impression as their debut. Some of the artists on our list of the 10 Best Final Albums called it quits because they knew it was time. Other just gave up. And others died. No matter what the case, these last albums by indie rock artists are poignant reminders of greatness.
Smith was still working on his fifth and final album when he died in 2003. ‘From a Basement on the Hill’ came out a year after his death, assembled by his longtime producer from a batch of songs the singer-songwriter left behind. It serves as a touching requiem for Smith, a troubled artist whose legacy has grown in the decade since his passing.
Following the success of ‘Speaking in Tongues’ in 1983 and the world tour that followed, Talking Heads slowly began splintering, as frontman David Byrne seized more and more control. By the time the band started recording its eighth album in Paris in 1987, everyone had a sense that it would be the last. After the relatively spare ‘Little Creatures’ and ‘True Stories’ albums, Talking Heads enlisted a bunch of musicians to play various horns, percussion and other instruments on ‘Naked,’ a fitting global-music end to the band’s career in 1988.
Sleater-Kinney saved one of their most abrasive albums for last. ‘The Woods,’ released in 2005, spills over with punk guitars, cathartic howls and a raging sense of fury against mid-’00s societal ills. The Washington trio’s seventh album isn’t their best, but it is their tightest. There’s barely any breathing space in its densely packed grooves.
The White Stripes’ sixth album doesn’t sound all that different than the previous five, which probably explains Jack White‘s decision to pull the plug on the duo after 10 years. There was nowhere left to go. Even though ‘Icky Thump’ was released in 2007, it took White another four years before he officially announced the band’s breakup.
Like 1984’s milestone ‘Zen Arcade,’ Hüsker Dü’s sixth album is a double record. But it’s not so much that the trio had an abundance of great songs in 1987; it was more a democratic approach to Bob Mould and Grant Hart’s ongoing feud over who would get more of their songs on the album. The result is a fractured but blistering double album that reflects the growing animosity between band members.
‘All Shook Down’ isn’t so much the final Replacements album as it is Paul Westerberg’s first solo record. By the time they released their seventh album in 1991, the band was barely in one piece. Westerberg recorded most of ‘All Shook Down’ with session musicians. The record plays like a sad, somber end to many things, including the group’s hope for mainstream success. Some great songs, though.
James Murphy knew going into LCD Soundsystem’s third album that it would be their last. So he made sure it was every bit as epic as their second album, 2007’s ‘Sound of Silver.’ Dance-punk, regular punk, synth-pop, indie rock and electronic music spread out on the 2010 record, giving ‘This Is Happening’ a narrative arc that spans Murphy’s beloved NYC.
The Smiths finished recording their fourth album in April 1987. By the time it was released in September, guitarist Johnny Marr was gone. Within months, Morrissey put out his first solo album. Whether or not the Smiths were aware of their imminent collapse, ‘Strangeways, Here We Come’ doesn’t sound like a band on the verge of falling apart. Then again, Morrissey and Marr’s relationship was always a fragile one. To their credit, their music never showed it.
Like Elliott Smith’s ‘From a Basement on the Hill’ (see No. 10 on our list of the 10 Best Final Albums), Joy Division didn’t intend for their second album to be their last. Singer Ian Curtis’ suicide in May 1980, followed by ‘Closer”s release two months later, effectively ended the band, which regrouped a year later as New Order. ‘Closer’ plays like a eulogy.
Nobody really pegged Nirvana as a career band, but it was still a shock when Kurt Cobain killed himself on April 5, 1994. The fame, drugs and various disorders were bound to catch up with them, and ‘In Utero,’ which was released in September 1993, sounded like a defiant reaction. Brutally loud, under-produced and brimming with self-doubt, ‘In Utero’ isn’t so much a cry for help as it is a warning to stay away. They couldn’t have gone out any other way.