Lioness: the Hidden Treasures
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.
Half Time, Best Friends Right?, Body And Soul
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…
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.