Bloggers of a literary bend, we beseech you. Read this here blog. Why do you pay such attention to albums first words, yet seem to ignore their last?
The argument – that closing sentences are inherently less memorable than opening ones – is tosh. Everyone talks about arresting introductions, from the filmic (“The screen door slams/Mary’s dress waves”) to the desolate (“It doesn’t matter if we all die”), but hardly anyone discusses the haunting, echoic power of a beautifully-written conclusion.
Perhaps, in the age of the shuffle function, endings are not as important as they were in the days of vinyl, when the sound of the needle slipping off the mat would be the occasion for a moment’s silent contemplation before you dragged yourself off the sofa and cued up another record. Who, these days, sits and ponders before hitting ‘next’ on the iPod wheel?
But the best albums demand that you do just that. I’m thinking of closing tracks such as Radiohead’s ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’, from ‘Kid A’, in which Thom Yorke’s silvery falsetto rises into futurity (“I will see you in the next life”), while harp-strings fade, like smoke rising from an abandoned, almost-extinguished cigarette.
(Thank God they ditched the original extra verse, a syrupy love-note to a “beautiful angel pulled apart at birth”).
R.E.M. used a similar into-the-future tactic, but with far more sunny and optimistic results, on ‘Find The River’, from ‘Automatic For The People’, which ends with the consoling lullaby, “Pick up here and chase the ride/The river empties to the tide/All of this is coming your way…”
Not all albums slip so sweetly down the plughole. The spiraling coda of The La’s ‘Looking Glass’, for example, introduces a note of existential, fractal horror: “I’m in everybody/Everybody’s in me/If the stone is cast – the glass is smashed.”
You’re left with the impression of a mind forever shattered by an unrepeatable moment of transcendence. It’s a heavy line – a broken, Merseyside equivalent to the dazzling hippy optimism that brings Love’s ‘Forever Changes’ to an end: “This is the time and this is the time of ages/It is time, time, time, time, time…”
Then again, who wants an album to end on a note of cosmic ecstasy? Famously, the final track on The Beatles’ last album – ‘The End’, from ‘Abbey Road’ – was also the last track the foursome ever recorded together. But who in their right mind would claim that this staggeringly lame bit of Hallmark philosophy summed up the Beatles’ epically creative career?
“And in the end, the love you take/Is equal to the love you make”.