Category Archives: Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse – Lioness: the Hidden Treasures

Amy Winehouse

Lioness: the Hidden Treasures

 12-2-2011

Island Records/ Universal Music Group

So what I predicted in my review of Frank happened, although one hardly needed to have a 6th sense to predict the release of this one. When Amy Winehouse died in July this year she hadn’t released anything in over five years. So, ladies and gentlemen, it isn’t very likely that, if she were around still we would have any album by her ready, conveniently enough just in time for the holiday season, unless Island records would have gotten sick of her behaviour and her and dropped her from their roster, in which case a Greatest Hits album would’ve hit the shelves, because she wasn’t actively recording and nobody in their right mind would buy an album assembled from tracks that didn’t make the cuts of Frank or Back to Black if they wouldn’t have known for sure it would be the very last they would ever hear from her.

To be fair, this really isn’t like one of those posthumous 2pac albums in that everything on here, save for one song, was produced by Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson, two people who Amy actually worked with during her lifetime, whereas Shakur’s from-the-grave discography was filled with producers and rappers he often had never met or worked with and possibly wouldn’t have recorded with, had he had the opportunity, so that works in Lioness’ favour, actually. There is one guest artist on here who sounds like he’s been edited in after Amy’s passing, which is because he was, but it’s not as tastelessly or blasphemously done as those 2pac-Ja Rule or 2pac-50 Cent joints, because Amy was actually a fan of his.

With that said, three of Lioness’s cuts are inferior alternate versions of Winehouse songs already released and five cuts are covers of standards beaten to death by every singer since the dawn of man. I suppose that the people who compiled this album couldn’t be too picky.

Tough luck bitches, I am.

1. Our Day Will Come

Allegedly this Salaam Remi-helmed, reggae-tinged cover from one of the classics from the great American songbook was recorded for Winehouse’s 2003 debut Frank. That makes sense as this would fit seamlessly on there. The fact that this not only wasn’t the lead single upon its recording but also was left on the cutting room floor speaks volumes, not about this song per se but definitely about the album on which it is featured.

2. Between the Cheats

A lot of the critics went apeshit over this one. Well that’s not completely true but they did universally acclaim this as one of Lioness’s finest moments. It’s pleasant and all when it’s playing but it leaves very little in the form of an impression. What kind of fuckery are we in?

3. Tears Dry [Original Version]

An alternate slowed down, less catchy version of a song which I remember not having much going for it, except catchiness.

4. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow

This was recorded for the score to the 2004 film adaptation of Bridget Jones and was actually released in its intended manner. This cover of a ‘60s Shirelles song doesn’t do much for me. What made Winehouse interesting when she was interesting was how she abused the faux-‘60s productions which Mark Ronson tossed her for telling grimy, depressing, gritty hyper personal tales of her own. When she simply covers originals she comes off, to me at least, as just a competent enough singer, which isn’t a description that fits Amy, it rather applies to X-factor winners.

5. Like Smoke (feat. NaS)

Well, this is certainly something that’s got an air of could’ve, would’ve, should’ve been better. Winehouse was a huge NaS fan (Me and Mr. Jones references him) so at the very least him showing up to pay his respects is appropriate in that it results in something Winehouse would’ve been excited about doing. That is, a record Amy might’ve been into making if she were still around to do so. As is this sounds like a song she intended to record solo but passed out, never to return to the studio, before having the possibility of finishing it. That is off course not the case. Miss Winehouse didn’t record much after Back to Black. Hence she probably didn’t finish this because she was busy smoking crack. I must say that NaS Escobar does a decent job filling the void although it still feels incomplete. Also, this is alright but it’s not real…

6. Valerie [’68 Version]

The only reason I can think of that Mark Ronson didn’t include the originally released Winehouse version of Valerie  off his own Versions album is that that one was already included as a bonus track on some incarnations of Back to Black. Fine, the fans have that album already anyway. That doesn’t excuse the inclusion of this slightly inferior version though.

7. The Girl From Ipamena

Call me a purist but I’m sure the production on this could make both Antônio Carlos Jobim and Astrud Gilberto roll over in their graves. Besides, I recall there being a gazillion covers of this anyway. Ah, the redundancy.

8. Half Time

Whereas the low-key production on this is pretty goddamn pleasant. It doesn’t surpass mere pleasantness in its 4 minute span but yeah this one is certainly iPod worthy.

9. Wake Up Alone [Original Version]

The third song that was included in a superior version on Back to Black. Oh well, that they’re scraping the plate this early on is at least an indicator that none of these reheated leftover albums will be released under Winehouse’s name again since they’re out of material already, which is just fine by me, actually.

10. Best Friends, Right?

And we’re back to really, really pleasant. And this one is pretty clever too. This is song could actually have made Frank an even more enjoyable affair. I believe that this one was cut from that album because Back to Black severely lacked this particular witty aspect of Amy’s persona.

11. Body and Soul (Tony Bennett feat. Amy Winehouse)

What I said about Amy doing covers doesn’t apply here because Body and Soul finds her holding her own in duet with Tony Bennett, a guy who has managed to maintain a healthy successful career since 1949 and has the charisma of 20 singers rolled up in one, which takes away any possible criticisms I otherwise might have aimed at Amy singing this song. I must say that Lady GaGa’s duet with Tony was way better but this was pretty decent nonetheless.

12. A Song For You

Whereas this rendition of some standard is more boring than the Michael Bublé version of this song. And people, do not think I hate Michael Bublé, or anything. He’s a fine singer who manages to set the mood just right when you’re in an expensive-ass restaurant, or are reading a book or are doing some other boring crap, and he makes the “What to buy for mother’s day?” question that much easier to answer by releasing his albums. And with Justin Bieber and Drake coming after this cat he is far from Canada’s worst export. Oh, about this song? Meh.

Best tracks

Half Time, Best Friends Right?, Body And Soul

Conclusions

Lioness is both an incoherent mess and boringly repetitive. Covers, duets, outtakes and alternate versions can be interesting when they are packaged with the album they’re supposed to have appeared on, but when presented on their own in the manner they appear here a good album they make not. While it doesn’t really make the music presented to the listener objectively worse I think it is safe to say that Amy herself wouldn’t like this album. Even more than Back to Black, Lioness makes me want to listen to Frank. None of these songs are terrible but it for the most part terribly substandard. Nowhere does this album outdo anything of Amy’s we already heard, which was to be expected, but more problematic for this type of release, nowhere does it shed any new light on Amy, the artist or the person. If anything this album mostly presents her as a rather tame jazz singer in the category of Michael Bublé. Again not that there’s anything wrong with tame jazz singers but even as a non-fanatic I know Amy Winehouse was more than that. I think I am going to listen to Frank and forget all about this album. For a necrophilia piece put together to cash in on the mourning fans of a dead artist this isn’t bad but it still is a necrophilia piece put together to cash in on the mourning fans of a dead artist…

Recommendations

I suppose Amy’s fans will have little choice but to listen to this album for closure. And I can’t stop them, I suppose. Let me just advise anyone considering giving this a spin not to spend money on it. It is a) not worth it and b) not going to help pay for that rehab Amy wasn’t ever going to visit in the first place. The only ones who will cash in on this one is the Universal Music Group, an organisation which is in no way in need of your charity.


Amy Winehouse – Back to Black

Amy Winehouse

Back to Black

10-04-2006

Island Records/ Universal Music Group

Okay, so it has been announced that Amy Winehouse’s first posthumous album Lioness: Hidden Treasures will be released in early December (let the 2pacing begin!). Since Back in Black is the only project standing in between her debut album Frank, which was the first album up for review on www.straightfromthecrates.com I might as well get this out of the way so I can review that half-assed attempt at juicing her mourning fanbase project when it comes out.

So 2003’s Frank was a hit in the Commonwealth world when it came out but left most of the rest of the world not giving much of a fuck. When Winehouse resurfaced, trimmed of her body-fat, tattooed full and with a huge beehive haircut in ’06 that would all change though as her second album was universally acclaimed by rabid critics proclaiming it an instant classic and comparing Amy to such people as Billie Holiday (which is batshit insane I don’t care how much you love Amy. Thou shan’t, won’t compare people to Billie motherfucking Holiday, that is sacrilege) and sold millions of copies worldwide, giving Winehouse the kind of success that would almost certainly made her follow-up a disappointment of huge proportions. That follow-up hasn’t yet surfaced, nor will it ever surface as everyone will agree on that whatever Lioness will turn out to be content-wise, it will not be a legitimate Winehouse album without her creative input, which, off course, she cannot provide from the grave.

Back to Black, though, was a legitimate Winehouse album and it was praised for its deftly produced soul-instrumentals created by Mark Ronson, Frank-veteran and NaS- producer Salaam Remi, as well as Sharon Jones’ backing band the Dap kings, and Winehouse’s soulful performances, unusually blunt lyrics, general funky offness and what not.

Should you give a fuck, though?

1. Rehab

A worldwide smash and a breakthrough single. And credit where credit is due, a pretty catchy tune whose refrain will, if this shit was based on reality, give Winehouse’s father a terrible feeling of guilt whenever this pops up on the radio. As a pop song though this is pretty damn captivating, not unlike the slowmotion instant replay of the 9/11 attacks were, right after the fact. But Rehab isn’t supposed to be experienced a horrible news-fact, it’s a grimy soul song about which no-one could say anything objectively because of obvious circumstantial reasons. I’ll try though. The instrumental, courtesy of Mark Ronson, the lyrics, the singing and the hook are pretty effective so in a different light perhaps this would be more enjoyable. It is said how the jazz of Amy’s debut Frank is tossed out of the window for a more classical soul sound. Rehab confirms this. Can’t say I completely agree with this decision.

2. You Know I’m No Good

Ronson’s instrumental is soulful and pretty upbeat. This is, off course, quite intentionally done to contrast with Amy’s singing about fucking up relations and what not. Let’s hope Winehouse and co. came up with more ideas during the recording of this album because if every song is “ironic” like that, well then this album will get boring even within its ten track span.

3. Me & Mr Jones

I wonder if this one is about NaS, given that she was a known fan of his and has Salaam Remi, the man responsible for giving Nasir his career back, behind the boards. If so then it’s a diss since “nowadays [he] don’t mean dick to [Amy]” and she’s mad at him for making her miss a Slick Rick gig. Anyway, I love the word fuckery as well as Amy’s apparent good taste in hiphop so that was nice. Also, it helped that she was sensible enough to simply cover Me and Misses Jones, Michael Bublé style, that’d be godawfully boring. Not that this is fantastic or anything…

4. Just Friends

Meh.

5. Back to Black

A pretty effective break-up song backed by a typically competent but little exciting imitation of ‘60s soul by Mark Ronson. I particularly enjoyed the first stanza, there’s literally no-one but Amy could’ve penned that stuff.

6. Love Is a Losing Game

Well, this sounds like the umpteenth cover version of some classic from the great American songbook but it isn’t, it’s an original Winehouse/ Ronson creation. You could take that as both a compliment and as a criticism.

7. Tears Dry on Their Own

I don’t know whether to get pissed over the blatant jacking of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough or to admire how this does in fact sound different from that song. I think I’ll do the former because this is the third breakup-song in a row, which is all sorts of redundant.

8. Wake Up Alone

The “at least I’m not drinking” lyric should ring a bell and strike a chord with every borderline alcoholic. Oh, you’re not a borderline alcoholic, you say? You just like a drink every once in a while? Relax, yo, it’s legal and I’ve got problems of my own. Anyway, this one seems to be about some of said problems so yeah, I was really feeling this one. Musically this one was only so-so but lyrically this was a lot more interesting to me than the three songs that came before this one.

9. Some Unholy War

I don’t like social commentary songs by pop artists. Although Amy doesn’t classify as a pop artist in the derogatory sense. And on closer inspection this isn’t a social commentary song. Not terrible, not awe-inspiring either.

10. He Can Only Hold Her

The first song from a second person perspective and some pleasant background-music but nothing more than that.

11. Addicted

Yeah it’s annoying when you’re in that stoner-phase of your life, and someone drops by and smokes all your weed. But seriously, is that enough of a premise for an interesting song? Amy apparently thought that not only it was but that said song would be a fantastic album closer too. I respectfully disagree as I found it hard to keep my attention on this. Not unlike someone who’s stoned out of his mind, I suppose.

Best tracks

Rehab, You Know I’m No Good, Back to Black, He Can Only Hold Her

Conclusions

So, yeah. The tossing the jazz-hop out of the window thing. Very much true. In its place are, mostly, Ronson’s classic soul meets hiphop production techniques. The problem with this is that these backing instrumentals aren’t very special. Everything is done professionally and without any major fuck-ups making it to the final cut but everything, except for the four tracks mentioned above sounds like a variation of the same song. It just makes me wonder what might’ve happened if Amy would’ve gotten down with the likes of the RZA, DJ Premier or Kanye West, rather than or in addition to Ronson and Salaam Remi, especially Primo, considering how much he did for Christina Aguilera. That would probably have done the album a lot of good since their horny soulful production styles would’ve fit onto the album seamlessly, but it still would’ve shaken everything just enough to make shit more interesting. An alternative to dragging more people into the booth would be recording some more Frank-ish tracks. Besides the production being decent, not great and a bit repetitive, Amy also repeats herself a lot. I get it, Amy, You’re depressed about your own alcoholism, drug taking and choice of partners. Do I look like a psychologist to you? It’s not like I don’t care but… are you meaning to say you’ven’t done anything fun lately? Still, these subjects, penned down by Amy’s unique songwriting hand make for a couple of interesting songs… just not eleven of them.  The above tracks do stand out in a good way, or maybe I just got bored after the first two songs until Amy said something about a dick on the title track. No, Back to Black isn’t a terrible album but it’s most certainly not the classic everyone makes it out to be either. Nor, is her 2003 debut, but that one comes a lot closer. Back to Black is the more consistent of the two but Frank has more highlights. In fact, two cuts from that album which I didn’t like all that much on first listen of that album but grew on me afterwards, Stronger than Me and Fuck Me Pumps, could, by a small margin, kick the entirety of Back to Black’s ass. That leaves it being an album which with its eleven tracks doesn’t overstay its welcome and has five pretty good songs and six not-too-bad lesser but not-quite-filler tracks. Disappointing, but not bad.

Recommendations

It’s okay.You can spend money on this if you want to. Just not too much, but chances are that you’ll find this in large stacks in the discount section of your local record store as literally everyone and their grandmother already owns a copy. There’s little chance you’ll hate it… Chances are you’ll find it pretty entertaining actually. Just don’t go so far as to proclaim this a classic. You’ll seem like an annoying bandwagon-jumper who’s out of touch with reality to people who have actually heard classic albums. And do put Amy’s debut Frank higher on your to do list. It is way better.


Amy Winehouse – Frank

Amy Winehouse

Frank

Island Records/ Universal Music Group

20-10-2003

"Amy. Frank"

If you compare Amy Winehouse’s two studio albums released while she was still alive (I predict the music industry 2pacing the shit out of miss Winehouse’s unreleased material, until every scrap is released in one way or another) you will notice a few differences between the Amy of her 2003 debut Frank and the one of her 2006 sophomore Back in Black. There’s no bee-hive, no tats and a few pounds of body mass more. If you ask me she looks a lot better on Frank’s cover. Intelligent readers will also notice in the two sentences preceding this one that I only got to a superficial comparison. That is correct because I have never heard either album in its entirety before I started writing this review. In fact I never cared much for Amy until she passed away in late July this year and I started a music review site and needed something that would generate a lot of hits. Sounds saddening? Oh well, at least I’m not some Winehouse fanatic ranting about how she was the greatest soul singer of our time. And might as well have been for all I know. Let’s get into it!

*presses play*

1a. Intro

I really don’t dig this intro. Is she mocking the jazz genre here? Is she actually attempting to really make a pretentious album intro? What’s the motherfucking point!? Well, at least it is short.

1b Stronger than Me

Now this leaves little doubt what its intentions are. It’s making a mockery of her effeminate boyfriend. While I really enjoyed Salaam Remi’s jazz-hop infused instrumental and while Amy’s singing is technically proficient, this cannot hold a candle to Lily Allen’s similarly themed Not Big. Still, this is a hell of a lot better than Katy Perry’s Ur So Gay, but that’s not really any sort of accomplishment now, is it? Anyway, this song was a successful single, was nominated for a Ivor Novello award and received tons of critical acclaim. So while I didn’t go bonkers over it I am clearly in the minority here.

2a. You Send Me Flying

This is a pretty good song and it was released as an airplay-only single in the UK. Although it is anything but an original idea to wait half a song before letting the drums kick in it is used to great effect and the hook is some pretty terrific stuff. Well played ma’am. Also, the instrumental sounds nothing like what Remi might’ve given NaS which is a testament to his versatility behind the boards, although it’s not hard to imagine Lauryn Hill & Wyclef over it.

2b. Cherry

Tacked onto the rear end of this track is a hidden track with a rather corny idea behind it. Luckily there is the skip button, ladies and gentlemen.

3. Know You Now

I found this one to be boring as fuck both musically and conceptually. Sorry, That’s all I got.

4. Fuck Me Pumps

Hmmm… Dissing unnamed people for being only famous for their rambunctious social life. Hell, the comment I would make were she still alive is both way too mean to throw onto the interweb this soon after her unfortunate passing, too easy, not completely accurate and musically irrelevant. Anyway I read online other music critics found this to be very witty and entertaining and such but I respectfully disagree. This was released as a single.

5. I Heard Love Is Blind

Whereas this is those things and more to me. Telling a lover that you really weren’t cheating on him when you were fucking someone else because you were thinking about him the whole time. That’s hilarious. The music itself not being half bad also helps matters considerably

6. Moody’s Mood For Love (Leo Ticks)

Apparently this a cover of some sort of jazz-standard. I really enjoyed the jazz-hop with an extremely mild reggae twist-beat of this song, provided by Salaam Remi, and Amy sings sex songs as well as love songs, it seems. The most memorable moment of this track to me is when she sings “You can blow now if you want to. I’m through.” at the very end. I think I’m getting why people think she was special. I can’t think of any female artist that could be so straightforward without making it awkward in one way or another, but here you have it.

7. (There Is No) Greater Love

Short and sweet.

8. In My Bed

Beat-jacking NaS!? Well, it works a lot better than I might have thought it would if someone described this song to me. And she does have the producer of the original song on board. Still, I’d listen to Made You Look before this anytime.

9. Take the Box

So far what separates miss Winehouse from similar artists is her sincerity and no-shit songwriting. While I’m still not as in awe as when I first listened to Lily Allen I am starting to like her. This is kind of bittersweet as I know I haven’t got anything to look forward to from her in the future, except for her sophomore album Back In Black which I’ve never heard in it’s entirety (although technically as of the writing of this sentence I still haven’t heard Frank in it’s entirety either). Anyway, she is winning me over.

10. October Song

Pleasant. Nothing more, nothing less.

11. What Is It About Men?

Something about liking bad boys and Amy’s destructive side. I didn’t really feel this one but then this one is probably more for the ladies than for me.

12. Help Yourself

Upbeat and jazzy from the very first second. Still, can’t say I like to be preached to by this woman who clearly did nothing of the kind she tells the listener to do. Not a musical argument either, I know.

13a. Amy Amy Amy

Another one about bad boys and Amy’s destructive side. Still this one is pretty good. Mostly because it’s funny rather than preachy or (ha!) whiny. Good way to cap off this album.

13b. Outro

Only the first 4 minutes and something of thrack 13’s thirteen minutes consists of the song Amy Amy Amy. After a short instrumental reprise of Stronger than Me we get a hidden song. It’s okay, a lot better than the Jazz Intro of this album but not great. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was Amy Winehouse’s Frank.

Oh, wait! There’s another hidden song. This second one is pretty good, upbeat and fun. Although it seems to be about buying alcoholic drinks at the store. Well, at least Amy seems happy and inspired singing about booze. #Bittersweet.

In conclusion:

Because of all the hype surrounding Amy, her black voice in a white person, her erratic public appearances, her promise of leaving a young corpse and her delivering on that promise it’s hard to listen to Frank objectively. Still, this is a genre- and epoch-defining album and while it is far from perfect it is for the most part a thoroughly enjoyable listen. Winehouse has a nice warm singing voice reminiscent of Lauryn Hill and the idea of an English jazz/soul singer collaborating with american hiphop producer Salaam Remi is a fresh one. Also, while Amy doesn’t rap anywhere on this album her lyrical straightforwardness has a hiphop edge to it. Basically this is effortless genre crossing. While there’s consistently enough jazzy hiphop being made there’s little hiphop-infused jazz around as far as I know. This would be the only example I know as a matter of fact and. It is an innovation and a lasting one I hope. Frank bridges a gap. While some songs miss the mark, most songs on here are pretty good and promise a really good follow-up. Whether or not Amy delivered on that promise before she died will be analyzed in due time , right here on Straight from the Crates.

Best songs:

You Send Me Flying, I Heard Love Is Blind, Moody’s Mood For Love (Leo Ticks), There Is No Greater Love, Take the Box, Amy Amy Amy + Outro

Recommendations

If you find this in the discount section of your local record store or fo’ cheap on sites like amazon you should pick this up. This album isn’t half bad. Just don’t expect to hear the new Billie Holiday or some shit like that because you won’t. Best soul singer of our generation? Maybe… But if she were, and I don’t believe she is, that would say as much about the state of the genre as it says about the artist.

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