Amy Winehouse - Lioness: Hidden Treasures
released 5 December 2011 on Island
In the weeks and months leading up to the tragically premature death of Amy Winehouse, speculation had begun to grow about a potential third album. It had been five years since the award-winning, multi-platinum Back To Black, and the public was hungry for more. Indeed, Winehouse herself had promised an interviewer in 2010 that the wait for a new record would be “six months at the most”, while goddaughter Dionne Bromfield even told entertainment website Digital Spy that she’d heard the album and that it was “very good”.
Since the announcement of the release of the compilation album, Lioness: Hidden Treasures, talk of an album’s worth of all-new material seems to have been largely forgotten. So, instead of a proper follow-up to one of the most popular and loved records of the 21st Century, we’re left to feed off mere scraps.
To get the obvious question out of the way early, Lioness: Hidden Treasures is not a good album, nor is it a fitting tribute to one of the modern era’s most talented performers. Throughout its dozen tracks, you can’t help but imagine how many – or rather, how few – of the songs Winehouse would have been happy to put out on an album. It seems hastily-assembled and slapdash, with little thought given to sequencing or flow. That’s especially galling given the carefully considered storytelling and cohesiveness that came from Winehouse’s two studio albums: Frank and the aforementioned Back To Black.
Production duties on Lioness are primarily handled by the two men who gave Back To Black its signature, retro sound: Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson. However, perhaps mindful of the enormity of the no-win situation they found themselves in, they sadly play it safe. Though it seems likely that album #3 would have seen no radical shift in sound from the previous record, Remi and Ronson set out to effectively create Back To Black II. However, by not taking many risks, the songs have a lightweight quality to them and much of the music sounds oddly carefree. This means that on the original songs, Winehouse’s lyrics don’t pack quite the emotional punch they should. That said, dialled-down production is infinitely preferable to Ronson’s extraordinarily heavy-handed work on a cover of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? It appears as if he’s completely lost his abilities, turning a beautiful song into a lumpen, awkward mess.
Elsewhere, the hidden treasures that the album title promises do exist and though they’re small in number, it’s the Winehouse-penned songs that provide them. Between The Cheats is a breezy soul track that’s fit to stand alongside her previous work and the witty put-downs and chronicling of a car-crash relationship on Best Friends, Right? are Amy Winehouse at her usual lyrical high standard. Half Time is better still; the disarming chord changes and shades of both nu-soul and hip-hop mark it out as the most Frank-like of the twelve songs.
But, despite them being provided here in abundance, cover versions and alternate recordings of existing Amy Winehouse tracks were not what anyone was curious for. The re-reading of Tears Dry On Their Own (here, just titled Tears Dry) is more sedate than the original, letting the fragility and vulnerability of the lyric break through the surface, yet it’s still little more than a curio. Yet another version of Valerie, plus covers of Our Day Will Come and The Girl From Ipanema don’t tell us anything we didn’t already know.
There are also two duets on Lioness, and they couldn’t be with more disparate performers. Nas provides a couple of verses on Like Smoke, which shows promise but seems half-baked, and Winehouse sings with Tony Bennett on Body and Soul – a track which would fit comfortably on a Tony Bennett album, yet sticks out like a sore thumb on an Amy Winehouse one.
Listening to Lioness: Hidden Treasures is not a particularly enjoyable experience. Only three tracks are of sufficient quality to have seen the light of day and it means you can’t help but question the motives behind the release of such an inessential collection. Thanks to the music world’s macabre obsession and glamorising of the dead, the posthumous album is now a common fixture in the release schedule. Elvis Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker famously declared, “This changes nothing,” upon learning of his client’s death. However, it would be nice to think that – unless there really was a bevy of unheard classics lurking in the recording studio cupboards – artists could be allowed to rest in peace. The quality of Frank and Back To Black ensure the legacy of Amy Winehouse will live on; let’s all just pretend this compilation album didn’t happen, shall we?