There are few things linear about The Doors' career arc, and that's largely because Jim Morrison was assuredly not a linear person. Although he died in July 1971, no less than three Doors albums were released after that: 1971's "Other Voices" and 1972's "Full Circle" each featured the other members doing their own songs and vocals without Jim. However, 1978's "An American Prayer" is credited to both Jim Morrison and The Doors as separate entities, as the band simply provides musical accompaniment for Morrison's detailed and sometimes hypersexualized spoken word poetry. Although the music is certainly engaging, there is little harmony between the various tracks, save for a gimme-gimme add-on in the form of live cut "Roadhouse Blues," which reminds us of the power and the chemistry that the band had together when doing songs and not backing a poetry reading. Is it a good full-length record? It remains up for debate even to this day. Yet as a rock music curiosity, well, few albums are as curious as this.
While Jeff Buckley's signature song will always be his dramatic rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," the album that track comes from, 1994's "Grace," had an even bigger impact, with its assured, pop-rock sound and winsome poetry anchored by Buckley's yearning, powerful vocals. Following news of his sudden and tragic drowning in 1997, the music world was shocked, losing such a bright young talent at age 30. Prior to his passing, Buckley was at work on his sophomore effort, to be titled "My Sweetheart the Drunk." Released in 1998, "Sketches from My Sweetheart the Drunk" is aptly titled, presenting a mix of finished or at least close-to-finished studio songs and four-track demos that Buckley was recording on his own. The end result is striking and powerful and showed where Buckley's sound was progressing, with tracks like opener "The Sky Is a Landfill" and the pummeling "Nightmares By the Sea" showing how much more comfortable Buckley was getting with the rock side of his sound, pushing his sonic well outside of balladeer territory. It may be unfinished, but while there have been countless releases of his live shows, studio demos and other ephemera since his passing, "Sketches" sounds a lot like a finished full-length, and goes to show how great a musician Buckley was, even when he was raw and unguarded.
So deliberate in its pacing and tone, the band was even running high off the success of its poppy one-off single "Love Will Tear Us Apart," which explicitly wasn't included on "Closer" as it had no thematic place amid the rest of the masterfully chilling tracks. Following Curtis' passing, the rest of the band ended up moving on and forming New Order, and while that was a hugely successful outfit on its own, the boys' legacy still stands squarely on the shoulders of "Closer," one of the most influential albums of the '80s.
It's hard not to look at "From a Basement on the Hill," folk artist Elliott Smith's sixth full-length, through the prism of his passing. While he was never afraid to put his personal struggles in lyrical context, "Basement" is at times downright confrontational about its subject matter, the chorus of "Strung Out Again" even going as far as to say that "I know my place / Hate my face / I know how I begin / And how I'll end / Strung out again." Initially intended as a double album, Smith's estate helped put the finished recordings together with the help of producers and friends, resulting in a record that is certainly unfinished but still beautifully rendered. While he had been growing in his sonic confidence since 2000's "Figure 8." the thundering rock sounds of opener "Coast to Coast" (that's The Flaming Lips' Steven Drozd absolutely pummeling the drums) and the winsome pop of closer "A Distorted Reality Is Now a Necessity to Be Free" showcased just how much Smith had grown in his artistry, even if a song as low-key catchy as "A Fond Farewell" freely associates with topics like suicıde. It's a harrowing, sometimes difficult document, but still a remarkable one. We could be sad about the loss of his spirit, but to hear him tell it on the album, "This is not my life / Just a fond farewell to a friend."
The Tragically Hip was Canada's rock band, full stop. Filling the airwaves with upbeat, thoughtful pop-rock numbers, the group crafted beloved, chart-topping albums starting back in 1989 with "Up to Here." Yet following a diagnosis of a terminal brain tumor in late 2015, frontman and songwriter Gord Downie decided to go out on his own terms, finishing one last album with The Hip, performing one last concert with them (that was viewed by over 10 million Canadians) and worked on what would be his final solo recordings. "Introduce Yerself", a double-disc set intended to have songs inspired by important people in his life, was released only 10 days after his passing in October 2017.
Produced by Broken Social Scene frontman Kevin Drew (who just a few years gave another Canadian treasure, Andy Kim, a similar assist), the sparse, tender and intentional "Introduce Yerself" is one part mournful, one part joyous and all parts relatable. Dramatic to a fault, it's a sweet love letter that feels carefully considered, even if a bit overlong. That didn't stop his fans from caring though, as following the album's release, it ended up going straight to No. 1, Gord's first time doing so as a solo artist. A perfectly fitting gesture for a life fully lived and fully loved. 2b1af7f3a8