Amy Winehouse’s first release since she died in July comes out on Monday. As early as September, word got out that this would not be the revered “third album” that she was reportedly working on at the time of her death, but a compilation of unreleased songs from 2002 through March of this year.
Though a complete version of “Lioness: Hidden Treasures” was not available at press time, enough tracks have surfaced online to paint a relatively clear idea of what to expect. Many of the tunes are covers and reworked versions of previously released songs. They have a surprisingly consistent vibe for such a varied timeline of when they were recorded. But posthumous albums are hardly ever a full picture of an artist’s intentions. One can’t help but wonder how close to completion they were, according to Amy.
Two tracks surfaced earlier this week: “Between the Cheats” and “Halftime.” Aside from the distorted bass that signals the intro of “Cheats,” it sounds like a straight-up oldies revival in the tradition of “Beauty School Dropout.” Winehouse’s voice is slurry like a drunken flirt — sure, she’s touching your shirt as she’s talking to you, but she’s swaying from side to side. That said, she doesn’t miss a note. “Halftime” is more likely to be a legacy cementer though. With its smooth Mary J mood and lyrics about how important her chosen profession was to her, this 2002 tune is almost a fitting epitaph.
“The music is a gift,” she sings, “and it’s stronger than all else, provides me with a bliss.”
Other posthumous musical offerings
‘The Dock of the Bay’ (1968)
Amount of time released after death: 76 days
With the title track of this album, Redding had recorded the only tune of this sort in his catalogue. He was headed in a folky new direction, and though it was one that his soul music peers weren’t exactly excited about, time has rendered the song as his best known work. Recorded just days before his death, the contemplative whistle-along song is one of the greatest “what if?” moments in pop music history. The rest of the album is mostly made up of the sort of kicking soul workouts that his band wanted him to keep creating.
Amount of time released after death: 99 days
This album is full of those proverbial “what if?” moments, as well as a lot of eerie lyrical moments. The album opens with Joplin singing, “You say that it’s over, baby,” and it is stinging to hear her sing “I’d trade all of my tomorrows for one single yesterday” in her performance of the album’s biggest hit, Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee.” Throughout the album Joplin delivers a material that far surpasses the bluesy numbers she had been doing previously.
and Yoko Ono ‘Milk and Honey’ (1983)
Amount of time released
after death: Three years
Lennon was assassinated three weeks after he released “Double Fantasy,” an album that broke a silence of more than five years. This album he had been working on with Yoko Ono was intended to be the follow-up. “Milk and Honey” is not an insult to the Lennon legacy, but listening to it now, it sounds very much of its era. We’ll never know if Lennon would have used so many 1980s conventions if he saw it through to completion.
and the Wailers ‘Confrontation’ (1983)
Amount of time released after death: Two years
This is a solid reggae album, but “Uprising” the album that Marley released the year before he died of cancer at 36 is the more appropriate farewell, as he knew he had cancer in the late ’70s. But “Confrontation,” which his widow Rita put together, does a great job celebrating his life rather than dwelling on his final recorded note, which was the stark and triumphant “Redemption Song.”
Amount of time released after death: Two months
Sublime singer Bradley Nowell died in 1996 (the same year as Tupac, who we didn’t profile here because that dude released more albums after he died than when he was alive). Anyway, by the time Nowell died, his band’s major label debut was already in the can. The celebratory music within hardly foreshadowed any tragedy, and was true to his intentions. However, the videos being a pastiche of existing footage, slowed down to give the impression he was mouthing the words, probably wouldn’t have been anyone’s first choice.
‘From a Basement on the Hill’ (2004)
Amount of time released after death: One year
Smith’s final album is loaded with warning signs to the troubled singer-songwriter. Yes, there’s a song called “A Fond Farewell” but another song he had prepared, “Suicide Machine,” was wisely left off.