Gauging the success of a posthumous release is an exercise in diplomatic and controlled criticism. It’s not that as reviewers we fear reader backlash, rather it’s a natural reaction to commenting on what could be the last few materials your favourite recently deceased artist has left you with. Amy Winehouse was a prodigious talent whose sophomore was the kind of album that portended her whole career trajectory, but alas the rock’n’roll gods decided she should face the cruel fate of being British. Then came the drugs, alcoholism and shame that were only stopped by the dreaded number 27.
Then comes the posthumous release, which in the case of Amy Winehouse, is sadly neither the potential classic she was working on before her untimely death nor a catalogue of obscure hits. Only 2 songs from Back to Black’s follow up were ever completed, Lioness: Hidden Treasures is in actuality a compilation of vocals Amy had recorded prior to debut Frankie up to before her passing in 2011. Longtime collaborator Salaam Remi (who was responsible for her safe and sterile debut) produced most of the tracks while only the aforementioned 2 were by the man responsible for Back to Black’s rebellious swagger, Mark Ronson.
No offence to Salaam Remi though, he did produce a number of tracks on her sophomore (one being the Slick Rick-referencing classic ‘Me & Mr. Jones’). But here on Lioness: Hidden Treasures, Amy Winehouse sounds like her debut era-self – controlled and safe. Makes sense considering Salaam had said that the album was “a Tupac situation” where they had to really mine her back catalogue for unreleased vocals. Similarly like ‘Pac’s posthumous tracks, when it works, it does wonders. Opener ‘Our Day Will Come’ is one such track, inaugurating the album with a beautiful autumnal melody that would trigger the kind of emotional reaction you would hope for from a star now in Club 27. But such promises is abated once tracks like the Tony Bennett duet ‘Body and Soul’ plays, Amy sounds more like lounge singer than the subversive character promised on Back to Black.
Not to belittle Salaam Remi’s contribution to Amy’s fame again, but the Mark Ronson-produced Zutons cover ‘Valerie’ and Carole King cover ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ are the Amy Winehouse fans are clamouring for. The former turns a playful song into a vocal showcase that reminds listeners of just why Amy’s fame persisted even after so many screw-ups. The latter gives us the highlight of the album when disappointment turns to poignancy during the bridge as Amy breaks into an emotive falsetto.
Highlighting these 2 tracks feels strange though, Amy was at her best when not doing covers. She was at her peak when she got to utilise her sarcasm and risqué charm on her tracks (“What kind of f*ckery is this?” as she famously sung). And yet Lioness: Hidden Treasures as a whole sounds like the opposite of what you had expected after Back to Black, it’s a different side to her songwriting. Tracks like ‘Best Friends, Right?’ give the impression of her caustic wit, but the production make them sound like they were intentionally cutesy. Maybe Salaam and Amy were never on the same wavelength thus the cognitive dissonance in the music and words.
As we had said though, it’s difficult to remain objective about the posthumous release of an artist you dearly loved. To its credit, Lioness: Hidden Treasures doesn’t sound like a mishmash of unreleased materials quickly thrown together by the label. Salaam Remi clearly had much love for Amy to produce such a coherent record, and we’re genuinely appreciative of that. It might not be the great third album we were hoping for, but Lioness is decent enough to remind us of Amy’s talent.
LISTEN TO THIS: ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’ ‘Valerie’ ‘Our Day Will Come’
IF YOU LIKE THIS YOU’LL DIG: Joss Stone, Corinne Bailey Rae, Adele
Go back to black @ www.amywinehouse.co.uk.
1. OUR DAY WILL COME
2. BETWEEN THE CHEATS
3. TEARS DRY
4. WILL YOU STILL LOVE ME TOMORROW
5. LIKE SMOKE
7. THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA
8. HALF TIME
9. WAKE UP ALONE
10. BEST FRIENDS, RIGHT?
11. BODY AND SOUL
12. A SONG FOR YOU