Best final albums: 21 artists whose swansong records were the perfect goodbye

They say you have a lifetime to work on your debut, but what about your final album? Some bands split, others go on indefinite hiatus, while others are torn apart by more tragic circumstances, but however you bow out, every band has a final LP to put a full stop on their career. Here are 21 of the best.

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1The Smiths – 'Strangeways, Here We Come'

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The Smiths – 'Strangeways, Here We Come': The final studio release for The Smiths needs little introduction. Regarded by many as the band's definitive statement, the likes of 'Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me' and 'I Started Something I Couldn't Finish' show the unique chemistry of Morrissey and Marr at its apex.

2Joy Division – 'Closer'

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Joy Division – 'Closer': They burned fast and bright, but in just two albums Joy Division had already amassed a back catalogue that would cement their place in the musical history books forever. Much of this was due to the dark and sadly ominous undertones of 'Closer', the troubled jewel in the band's crown.

3Nirvana – 'In Utero'

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Nirvana – 'In Utero': Released in the wake of the colossal success of 'Nevermind', 'In Utero' was Nirvana's attempt to alienate the fair-weather MTV watchers and produce something raw and uninhibited. Producer Steve Albini was enlisted and the result was gritty and unpolished. Needless to say, it still sold in bucketloads.

4Amy Winehouse – 'Back To Black'

Amy Winehouse – 'Back To Black': One of the big 'what could have been' artists of this century, Amy Winehouse's second and final album showed the singer hitting her stride in style. Poignant, sharp and timeless, its brilliance is bittersweet: Amy ultimately collapsed under the weight of the intensely emotional album's huge success.

5The Beatles – 'Abbey Road'

The Beatles – 'Abbey Road': Though 'Let It Be' is technically The Beatles' last release, 'Abbey Road' was the last album they actually recorded together, over the summer of '69. From 'Come Together' to 'Because' to 'I Want You (She's So Heavy)', it is – of course – a masterpiece. We'll even forgive 'Octopus' Garden'.

6Pulp – 'We Love Life'

Pulp – 'We Love Life'
Pulp – 'We Love Life' Produced by none other than Scott Walker, 'We Love Life' may not have been Pulp's biggest commercial success, but its tales of arch gloom showed a band that were smarter and savvier than just another bunch of Britpoppers. Even the title revelled in its own deadpan humour.

7Johnny Cash – 'American IV: The Man Comes Around'

Johnny Cash – 'American IV: The Man Comes Around'
Johnny Cash – 'American IV: The Man Comes Around': The fourth in a series of covers produced by Rick Rubin, 'American IV' was the last album recorded by Cash before his death in 2003. Most famously, it included the singer's iconic cover of Nine Inch Nails' 'Hurt', which went on to become a global hit.

8Sonic Youth – 'The Eternal'

Sonic Youth – 'The Eternal': Recruiting former Pavement bassist Mark Ibold into the fold, 'The Eternal ' saw Sonic Youth stretching their trademark sound into heavy but melodic new corners. It was well-received, but ultimately the break-up of lynchpins Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore would scupper any plans for a follow-up.

9The White Stripes – 'Icky Thump'

The White Stripes – 'Icky Thump': Though The White Stripes' sixth release found Jack and Meg sounding somewhat fuller and more polished than much of their ramshackle early output, 'Icky Thump' lost none of the personality. Showing a band in transition, the next steps would finally manifest in White's other work rather than that of his first band.

10The Verve – 'Forth'

The Verve – 'Forth'
The Verve – 'Forth': It could have all ended in 1997 with seminal record 'Urban Hymns', but in 2008 The Verve decided to give the wheel one final spin. In those circumstances, the result had to be worthwhile, and thankfully for 'Forth', it was.

11This Mortal Coil – 'Blood'

This Mortal Coil – 'Blood': As a loose 'collective' made up of artists signed to 4AD, This Mortal Coil had no shortage of credible names to boost its intrigue. On 'Blood', members of The Breeders and Throwing Muses were involved, with the results being predictably brilliant.

12Jimi Hendrix – 'Electric Ladyland'

Jimi Hendrix – 'Electric Ladyland': It may have taken a little while to find its place in music history's canon after initially puzzled reviews, but 'Electric Ladyland' has since gone on to cement itself as one of the greatest LPs of all time. 'Crosstown Traffic', 'Voodoo Chile', 'All Along The Watchtower'… it has it all.

13Sex Pistols – 'Never Mind The Bollocks… Here Come The Sex Pistols'

Sex Pistols – 'Never Mind The Bollocks… Here Come The Sex Pistols': OK, sure. So the Sex Pistols only actually released one LP, meaning that 'Never Mind The Bollocks' is both their first and last effort. But their inclusion here is justified: the Pistols knew it was better to burn out than to fade away, and their short sharp burst of anarchy was perfectly timed and perfectly ended.

14T.Rex – 'Dandy In The Underworld'

T.Rex – 'Dandy In The Underworld'
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T.Rex – 'Dandy In The Underworld': Marking a comeback for the band after a creative rough patch, 'Dandy In The Underworld' found Bolan and co edging back to their best. Sadly, a tragic car crash in 1977 meant that the record would be the group's last.

15The Birthday Party – 'Junkyard'

The Birthday Party – 'Junkyard'
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The Birthday Party – 'Junkyard': Before Nick Cave fully cemented his place as twisted raconteur par excellence, he started out life in Australia's The Birthday Party. The band's third and final album was a post-punk masterclass, existing outside the realms of any scene and creating its own uncompromising world.

16REM – 'Collapse Into Now'

REM – 'Collapse Into Now'
REM – 'Collapse Into Now': After 15 studio albums, music stalwarts REM finally decided to call it a day following the release of 2011's 'Collapse Into Now'. Many said that clues to their imminent break-up could be spotted throughout the album, but it remains a celebrated work nonetheless.

17Outkast – 'Idlewild'

Outkast – 'Idlewild'
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Outkast – 'Idlewild': The Outkast returned for a select number of unashamedly cash cow reunion shows in 2014, the chance of them making a new record seem essentially nil. We're left, then, with 'Idlewild' as the duo closing statement, and with 'Mighty O' and 'Morris Brown' among its tracks, that'll do for now. It puzzled some, but we loved it.

18Nick Drake – 'Pink Moon'

Nick Drake – 'Pink Moon': Dark and troubled, 'Pink Moon' was very much the product of its fractured creator's mind. Clocking in at just 28-minutes, it's sparse and open, offering a bleak insight into the psyche of a man who would shortly take his own life.

19Bobby Womack – 'The Bravest Man In The Universe'

Bobby Womack – 'The Bravest Man In The Universe': Legendary soul singer Bobby Womack's passing in 2014 came after a late career peak, thanks to XL boss Richard Russell and a helping hand from Damon Albarn. 'The Bravest Man In The Universe' – produced by the aforementioned two – brought Womack to a new generation and gave a touching and righteous final toast to the star.

2020. David Bowie - 'Blackstar'

Bowie was always one step ahead of his peers, and 'Blackstar' proved to be his most magical move yet. Released on his 69th birthday in January 2016, Bowie would die two days later due to an illness that had not previously been kept private. Music fans dove into his new album, finding clues to hinting to his impending final days.

2121. Leonard Cohen - 'You Want It Darker'

Released 16 days before the master passed away, 'You Want It Darker' was a devastating insight into the mind of a creator reaching his final moments. The title track, in particular, where Cohen flips between English and Hebrew, find Cohen ready to make the final leap.
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