With the recent announcement that Warner Music is set to release a new David Bowie box set featuring previously unreleased lost album ‘ The Gouster’ Sept. 23, we’ re thinking about what makes a truly great posthumous album release. In no particular order, these are five of the best indie canon posthumous releases.
Nirvana –MTV Unplugged in New York
This recording of Nirvana’ s visit to the set of MTV’ s ‘ Unplugged’ might not have been the most essential posthumous release (fans would’ ve bootlegged their own versions from the video footage inevitably), but that the band thought to highlight it as a standalone release after Kurt Cobain’ s suicide speaks to the group’ s tastes and what they could’ ve done on an alternate timeline. Featuring acoustic performances of Nirvana originals as well as cover performances of lesser known works by the likes of David Bowie, Meat Puppets, and the Vaselines, with Pat Smear and members of the Meat Puppets helping the band fill in the empty spaces, it’ s a crucial document of the band’ s most important dynamic shift.
Elliott Smith –From a Basement on the Hill
It’ s difficult to praise this release or much of Elliott Smith’ s career without romanticizing the profound misery and substance struggles he suffered leading up to his presumed suicide. But the 15 songs the songwriter’ s estate curated from a batch of 30 Smith had mostly completed before his death displays an artist at his most experimental, shooting the concentrated pain and anxious, foggy pop of previous releases through a kaleidoscope, implanting those feelings in a sunnier, more colourful world, which makes them all the more compelling.
Joy Division –Closer
Completed months before singer Ian Curtis’ s May 1980 suicide, ‘ Closer’ didn’ t have to come out posthumously; that’ s just how it happened. Closely followed by Joy Division’ s remaining members reforming as New Order, the album was released without any singles and little fanfare, but it represents a band at the height of psychic cohesion, with instrumentals less sparse and reliant on Curtis’ s vocals, more locked in than those on 1979’ s ‘ Unknown Pleasures.’
Nico –Nico’s Last Concert: Fata Morgana
Artists’ final concerts are often over-scrutinized, listeners performing close readings of set lists and looking to even the shortest stage banter for clues about the end – there’ s
something neat and tidy about this. But Nico’ s Last Concert was no fan servicing farewell – it came just over a month before she died after suffering a heart attack while riding a bicycle. Instead, Nico’ s final performance was one that spoke to a career-spanning legacy of risk taking and experimentalism: performed for an event at the Berlin Planetarium, all of the songs Nico and her backing band the Faction played here were composed specifically for the show, accompanied by moon-themed film projections.
Sid Vicious –Sid Sings
‘ Sid Sings’ is the bastard child of poorly recorded, sloppy live performances – glorified punk karaoke at its worst – and yet, it’ s a fascinating, engrossing portrait of punk’ s most publicly-enabled mascots and their flirtation with the mainstream: a rabid Frankenstein monster held together with safety pins, hoping for a village of torches and pitchforks to come its way. Plug in and wonder at this doomed Sex Pistol playing the hits – Frank Sinatra’ s “My Way,” the Stooges’ s “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” and Johnny Thunders cuts –while audience members chime in to let him know what a poser he’ s being and ask yourself: would you have this any other way?