Death can bring artists the validation that eluded them during their lifetime. If there's a silver lining to Nikki Sudden's recent death, that's it. The British singer-guitarist died March 26, after a show in New York. He was 49. Born Nicholas Godfrey, Sudden formed the Swell Maps with his younger brother, Epic Soundtracks (aka Paul Godfrey), in 1976. Though they survived a mere four years and recorded only two proper full-length albums, they were enormously influential (Sonic Youth and Pavement cite them); their furious, jarring structures combine a clattering undercurrent cadged from Can and Neu with scratchy, atonal squalls of guitar for an off-kilter attack that recalls peers the Fall and Wire.
If that were Sudden's only contribution, he would stand tall enough, but the charismatic Brit continued releasing albums -- as a solo artist and with the Jacobites -- for the next 20 years. He explored a rootsy garage-rock sound, echoing hints of T. Rex, the Faces, and Mick Taylor-era Rolling Stones. Sudden was a prolific artist, and his catalog is littered with uneven releases, but in recent years, he began releasing one gem after another. Perhaps spurred by his brother's abrupt death in 1997, Sudden entered the best stretch of his career, beginning with Egyptian Roads and continuing through 2004's revelatory Treasure Island (featuring guest appearances by Taylor and the Faces' Ian McLagan). A few weeks ago Sudden finished his last album -- which friends call his best ever -- while also nearing completion on his autobiography, The Last Bandit.
While Sudden lacked Johnny Thunders' chops, he had a similar style and ragged grace. Maybe in death this irreplaceable personality will finally make the transition from cult favorite to legend.