Saving the best for last

23:50, Jul 08 2014

So I'd just reviewed the new Ginger Baker album - and raved about it being a fitting swansong, as it's likely the last original album he'll release - when I read this list of ten artists who released their best album as their final recorded statement.

It's an interesting list - it sets out a couple of rules, no bands or solo artists where only a couple of albums were released; Joy Division being an obvious example there. It's fair to assume (to hope) an act will improve from album number one to two. And then of course on from there - but in a few special cases there are artists who release something really definitive and stirring with a final album; possibly career-defining, maybe even just a touch outside and away from their initial/trademark sound.

Talk Talk for instance (also featured on the Consequence of Sound list) and Nick Drake. To me there's just no question that Pink Moon is the Nick Drake album. The other two have strong songs too, nice moments, but mood-wise it's Pink Moon all the way. Though Drake only released three albums in his lifetime so that's getting close to the Joy Division example.

The other stipulation from the COS list was that bands could be included if they haven't yet officially broken up. They kick off their list with Fugazi as an example - no announcement beyond indefinite hiatus, the thrill is still there at the idea of another album.

I would put The Blue Nile's High on this list - that doesn't mean I don't love the other Blue Nile albums, particularly the first two. Of course I do. It might not be an obvious choice, it might be the majority that think it, but for me High is the band's Pink Moon. It's the special sauce, the earlier albums feature some fine songs - really lovely. But High is the one that plays through like a statement, it might help that - as Paul Buchanan told me, when I interviewed him - it is in fact the sound of the band breaking up; it's the guys holding it together for as long as they can, one final time, channelling that soft struggle into the music. I've certainly listened to High more than any other Blue Nile album so it would be on my list, even if I'm in the minority of Blue Nile fans there.

Refused's The Shape of Punk To Come is probably an obvious contender - but I'd be assuming that, only. I love the album but it's the only one I know from that band. So I'm going to acknowledge it's probably a correct choice, but I haven't done the listening outside of that album to confirm it on my list.

The Ginger Baker record though - that's the one. The timing of it seems all-important now too. Not just because Baker is older and has had health issues, but because of the documentary, Beware of Mr. Baker. That probably will put him back on the radar for a few people. It exposed him, to fair-weather fans, as a difficult customer. And now he releases the album that seems to tie together all that he has been trying to offer with his music since leaving the spotlight of power trios and supergroups, since working to combine vestiges of jazz and African music.

I've written about Ginger Baker twice previously here at Blog On The Tracks - the first time was after reading his autobiography a few years ago and then after seeing the documentary last year and both times I tried to stress, as I will again now, that the stories of Baker being anything close to the world's greatest drummer are exaggerated, incorrect. But he's also not to be written off as some rock animal masquerading a jazzer - what I get from Baker's playing is personality. And he was certainly one of the most influential drummers of his era. It's perhaps ironic to get so much personality from his playing, the documentary (and his book for that matter; certainly any of the interviews you read across the last decade at least) suggest that there's not a lot of personality ever on offer. But it's there in his playing, in the way he divides the time, marking it always with that rain-stick sound of the hi-hat, his own tribal energy pouring out.

You really should hear Ginger Baker's new album. Well, I loved it.

But finishing up a review of the album and then going straight to that Consequence of Sound list I can't help but see it, for right now, as the shining example of an artist saving their very best work for last.

So what's your favourite "final" album? Who do you think is a great example of someone who saved their best work for last, their final album standing out as their absolute best?

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