Amy's new album well intended but 'a let-down'

Annique Simpson

It happened to pop music icon Michael Jackson last Christmas and to US rapper Tupac Shakur eight times in 15 years. 

Now tragic Amy Winehouse is the latest fallen star to be given the posthumous album treatment.

Released nearly five months after the singer, 27, was found dead in her Camden flat, Lioness: Hidden Treasures is a compilation of 12 tracks recorded by Winehouse between 2002 and 2011. Those behind the album – which was produced by Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi - have been keen to state that it isn’t a follow-up to the singer-songwriter’s Grammy award-winning album, Back to Black, and for good reason too. Because, unlike its predecessor, Lioness: Hidden Treasures is, in its entirety, a let-down: a few admirable tracks amongst a pride of duds.

Particularly deserved of scorn are the album’s two duets. Body and Soul, which features Tony Bennett, is a disjointed track, with the songstress’s erratic singing style and overuse of her lower vocal range proving too contemporary for Bennett’s smooth vocals. US rapper Nas appears on Like Smoke; a track intended for Winehouse’s unfinished third album. The singer’s tinny-sounding hook and end-of-track caterwauling are overpowered by Nas’s nonsensical rap in a poor attempt by producer Remi to build a top-quality hip-hop joint around some of Winehouse’s studio scraps.

Winehouse’s renditions of US R&B classics are just as poor. She sounds rigid and lacklustre in her version of The Shirelle’s Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow - despite the accompanying cacophony of trumpets – and is barely coherent on her 2009 cover of Leon Russell’s A Song For You, perhaps because she was allegedly battling with a drug addiction at the time of recording it. Certainly her end-of-track prattle about 70s singer Donny Hathaway, who also covered the Russell track, supports this hypothesis.

Lioness: The Hidden Treasures also contains popular Winehouse tracks in their original form. Tears Dry is considerably slower than the Back to Black version, Tears Dry on Their Own (in the absence of the Aint No Mountain High Enough sample), allowing Winehouse’s tale of recovery from a lost love to be heard in all its depressing glory.

Her 2006 cover of The Zuton’s Valerie is more soulful and mellow than her and Ronson’s pop-infused 2007 release and was Winehouse’s favourite of the two, according to Ronson. There is a greater congruency between lyric and beat in the 2006 version: it seems feasible that a man longingly wondering about an ex-lover would do so over a soft slow beat rather than a lively swing rhythm.

Wake Up Alone has a more acoustic feel than on Back to Black. The harrowing echo effect at the end of the song places greater emphasis on Winehouse’s loneliness, whilst the lyric -“I stay up and clean the house, at least I aint drinking”- is more poignant this time around considering she died from alcohol poisoning.

Although thrilling tracks are scarce on the album, there are a few to look out for. Our Day Will Come - a reggae-infused cover of the Ruby and the Romantics hit shows Winehouse at her best: singing about love and happiness over a ska beat. Likewise, she is on top form in Half Time, a jazzy tribute to music. Interestingly, both tracks were recorded in 2002 before she succumbed to the trappings of fame.

The Motown-esque Between the Cheats, about her then-husband Blake Fielder-Civil, is also amazing, although for different reasons. Her faltering raw falsetto is hauntingly beautiful, possibly echoing the pain she was experiencing when the track was recorded in 2008: Fielder-Civil was in prison and she was apparently lost in a world of drugs, drink and indefatigable paparazzi.

In terms of sales, Lioness: Hidden Treasures is a golden nugget for the Winehouse family. It topped the iTunes chart within hours of its release, is currently number one on the UK album chart and with £1 from every copy sold going to the Amy Winehouse Foundation – the charity set up by her family –thousands of disadvantaged young people will be better off for it too.

However, a few charming tracks, impressive sales figures and charitable intentions do little to mask the album’s mediocrity. Lioness: Hidden Treasures lacks the soulful realism of Frank and the grittiness of Back to Black - features which made these two albums modern-day masterpieces. This is a shame because she released so little material in her later days.

In a recent interview, Remi vowed that the release of Lioness: Hidden Treasures would not result in “a Tupac situation”, presumably meaning that the charts will not be flooded with awkwardly constructed Winehouse albums any time soon. And he’s right: to treat the singer like a cash cow with no consideration for quality would be immoral. However, his reluctance may deprive her fans of an LP in the league of her first two albums. And this would be even worse.