An Ode to the Gentle Album Closer

 
"Death on the Battlefield" by Stefano della Bella
 

There are, probably, like, a million excellent ways to end an album (along with probably a billion horrible ways to do it). You can close it with chilled-out goodbye, or a slow build to chaos, or even just ride what you’ve been doing the whole time through to the end. But shifting gears to serve up a gentle album closer has got to be the absolute best way to do it, at least in my opinion (which, let’s face it, is always correct). It just washes everything down so sweetly, like milk after cookies. It’s an auditory hug.

Now, to be clear, this doesn’t include any final song that just happens to be acoustic. I’m talking specifically about those that are breaks from the tone of their album. Take, for example, “Her Majesty,” from The Beatles’ Abbey Road. It’s considered the first secret track in recording history, just a scrapped idea tacked onto the end of an incredible exciting record. Sure, Abbey Road has its quieter moments, such as “Because.” But they’re still vastly more realized than this twenty-six second recording, which is just Paul McCartney singing with an acoustic guitar.

It’s also very clearly inspired some of the other songs I listened to for this. Take one of my favorites, “Katherine Kiss Me,” from Franz Ferdinand’s Tonight: Franz Ferdinand. The album as a whole maintains the band’s disco-pop-rock sound, cloaked in synthesizers for the first time. Like “Her Majesty,” it feels like something tacked on after the rest of the album was completed, and it harkens back to earlier in the album. It’s an acoustic variation on “No You Girls,” but with some new lyrics, a slightly shifted melody, and a much sweeter tone. It lets you down easy.

 
 
 
 

Or look at “All By Myself,” from Green Day’s Dookie (a close tie with Enema of the State for my least favorite title of all time). While it’s still got the same sense of juvenile humor that permeates the rest of the album (it’s about cranking your hog), the band trades in their usual pop-punk sound and line-up for drummer Tré Cool’s vocals and acoustic guitar. Again, this feels like a scrap left over from the band’s drafts. Admittedly, this is a secret track, which is probably why there’s such a drastic shift in tone. Still, it’s a welcome shift nonetheless, even if it is in service of a song about jerking off, and also I’m regretting calling these a warm hug earlier.

But that’s also because they’re not always warm hugs! On TV On The Radio’s first EP, Young Liars, singer Tunde Adebimpe drops the art-rock aesthetic for an entirely a capella cover of The Pixies’ “Mr. Grieves,” here titled “Mr. Greives.” (I think. Quick detour: different places spell it different ways, and because, like “All By Myself,” it’s a secret track, it isn’t listed on the album itself. I’m going with how Spotify and Amazon spell it, half because I think that’s how the band spelled it, and half because I just like the way it looks). Adebimpe layers his voice more than forty times for this track, and it gives the whole thing an absolutely haunting effect.

Hinds’ added a particularly depressing track to this list with “Ma Nuit,” from their second album, I Don’t Run. A lo-fi acoustic track, mixing Spanish and English, and hugely different from the rest of this garage rock album. Then there’s “Poledo,” from Dinosaur Jr.’s You’re Living All Over Me, which is half strange, dark, acoustic song, and half experimental soundscape. It’s probably the most surprising of the bunch, as it’s vastly more far-removed from the rest of the album than anything else I’ve listed here.

 
 
 
 

Still, though, as much as I love the more downbeat entries to this list, there’s something so warming about the happy ones, especially “After Hours,” The Velvet Underground’s closing track from their self-titled album. It makes you want to lie in a field on a gentle spring day. Then there’s “Together,” the final track off of Grapetooth’s debut album, also self-titled. This album is wonderful (as are their concerts, if they’re ever in your area!) and positively dripping with synths. But this last track, which feels like a lo-fi bedroom recording, is such a treat. It even ends with a call-back to their original single, “Trouble.” And then a laugh. That’s what’s so fun about these tracks. They feel so much more personal, like you’re getting a peek inside the artists’ minds. And isn’t that why we listen to these albums in the first place? Well, maybe except for Dookie.

 
 
 
 

In any case, here’s a playlist of the songs I listened to while putting together this piece: