It is hard not to listen to the new Amy Winehouse record, Lioness: Hidden Treasures, without mentioning the veil of tragedy that accompanies the whole recording. Winehouse, whose untimely death this past July, made her part of the notorious “27 Forever Club” (including artists such as Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix who all passed away at the age of 27), shows, on this recording, the great promise her passing ended. The songs, like her life, feel incomplete in a certain way. The bare skeletons that these tracks are feel weighed down with the idea of what they could have been had Winehouse been able to fully finish many of them.
Winehouse had previously released two albums – the jazzy Frank (2003) and the ode to 1960s girl groups Back to Black (2006). While Frank did well, it is hard for anyone who lived through the year 2007 to not remember Back to Black. From the constant playing of the song “Rehab” everywhere one went to the constant declarations from those around her that Winehouse should enter rehab, the lady with the beehive had a landmark year. The Mark Ronson-produced album eventually led to five Grammy awards (including three of the “Big Four” categories), not to mention ushered in a whole new generation of “new soul” British songstresses such as Duffy and the now ever popular Adele.
This posthumous release, complied by Ronson and another frequent Winehouse contributor Salaam Remi, has two new songs Winehouse had begin to record before her passing but is mostly composed of older material from 2002 to 2006. This mixture therefore becomes a strange sort of grab bag of Winehouse’s sound – alternate versions of songs, old covers, and a new chorus or verse scattered in with appearances by other artists. Perhaps that is why, Lioness, overall, feels slightly artificial – a lackluster and rushed tribute to a woman whose life was music.
That is not to say though that the album does not have its’ gems. A cover of The Shirelles, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”, originally recorded for the soundtrack of a Bridget Jones movie, appears here in a new arrangement that beautifully showcases Winehouse’s signature raspy voice. Different arrangements of Winehouse classics such as her cover of The Zutons’ “Valerie” and Back to Black mainstay “Wake Up Alone” also standout from the rest. Here, the version of “Valerie”, as opposed to the one from the Mark Ronson album Version, has more of Winehouse’s trademark 1960s –style sound and a less production-heavy sound. “Wake Up Alone” is stripped down as well, providing the listener with a powerfully authentic crash of emotion when Winehouse warbles “Soaked in soul / He swims in my eyes by the bed”. Of the new songs, the more completed “Between the Cheats” provides a glimpse into an album that will never be. Supposedly written about her complicated relationship with former husband Blake Fielder-Civil, the song, in usual Winehouse fashion, is seriously candid. As Winehouse sings “I would die before I divorce you”, listeners gain insight to a relationship that supposedly heavily contributed to her drug and alcohol abuse.
On the other hand, there are some noticeable pieces that are not so much lackluster songs as they are just audibly out of place. The cover of bossa nova standby “The Girl from Ipanema” feels like a song that would have more at place in a cocktail lounge than in a final tribute album. The other piece of new material, “Like Smoke”, features so little vocals by Winehouse and such a hefty portion by guest artist Nas, one could argue that it is barely a Winehouse song at all. On this track, her voice is limited to about one chorus worth of material and various “ohhs” and “ahhs” and, although Nas has a solid flow, the rapper’s lyrics feel misplaced next to the girl group-inspired beat.
Overall, one cannot help but feel sad when sampling the career leftovers that compose Lioness. Like other members of the “27 Club” before her, Winehouse’s talent became so masked by her personal demons, people tended to forget just what an amazing artist she was. It is disappointing then that Lioness stands as a final tribute to her legacy – one that hopefully will not be as forgettable as some of these songs are.