AMY WINEHOUSE: LIONESS: HIDDEN TREASURES (2011)
1) Our Day Will Come; 2) Between The Cheats; 3) Tears Dry; 4) Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?; 5) Like Smoke; 6) Valerie; 7) Girl From Ipanema; 8) Half Time; 9) Wake Up Alone; 10) Best Friends, Right?; 11) Body And Soul; 12) A Song For You.
Well, the third album never came — with Amy joining the «27 Club» on July 23, 2011, we can only guess how things would turn out. Not that it was reasonable to expect any spectacular developments, but, clearly, the resurrection of healthy mainstream R&B suffered a major setback in the process. (On the other hand, this brings to a close the rather silly Amy / Adele competition, imagined and fueled by the media).
Although the lady's self-destruction process was utterly stupid and irresponsible (neither the times that she was living in nor the level of her personal troubles could justify it in any way), and the numerous scandals (such as the infamous June 2011 Belgrade performance) made it seem that she was «finished» creatively at least a few months prior to the accidental demise, this collection of outtakes — the first in what will probably become a steady stream of posthumous releases — clearly shows that, in the studio at least, the spirit was still there. That is the only thing that Lioness shows: it is not a coherent model of the «third album», only two songs for which had been completed (ʽBetween The Cheatsʼ and ʽLike Smokeʼ), and the relative lack of well-written originals stamps this as a «fan-only» release. But it is definitely not a waste of plastic.
ʽLike Smokeʼ is definitely a highlight here, despite my predictable dislike for rapping (I'd much rather hear an extended instrumental passage than witnessing a guy called Nas attempting to steal the tune from Amy — sorry, hip-hop fans): Amy genuinely sounds «like smoke» on the number, and the little echo that producer Salaam Remi puts on her voice emphasizes that feeling. ʽBest Friends, Right?ʼ and ʽHalf Timeʼ also have their moments. That said, the majority of Lioness is given away to covers, and overall, it is much more interesting to watch Amy's take on other people's material here than fish out her own compositions, which do not generally hold a candle to her self-penned «proper» hits.
The covers are all respectable and have a wide range — from Carole King to Leon Russell to Ruby & The Romantics. Their problem is the usual one: the covers may have a wide range, but Amy herself does not, singing all of them in more or less the same (her usual) manner. But that is exactly what makes the result interesting — not everyone can sing ʽThe Girl From Ipanemaʼ (remember Astrud Gilberto?) and ʽBody And Soulʼ (remember Billie Holiday?) in the exact same emotional framework, and get away with it.
I would claim that Amy can, although it is a hard job trying to characterize that manner. Somehow, it melds together elements of toughness (overall low and razor-sharp voice), insecurity and frailty (reflected in the occasionally «swallowed» phrasing and intentional crackling), and habitual jazzy «nonchalance». Or something like that. Fact is, the cover versions of Lioness, like everything else she did, further confirm that the girl was never «just another diva», that she had her own style to which she could easily convert «foreign» material as well as her own. The style may easily seem annoying to some, or monotonous and predictable to others, but we could just as well state the same about Billie Holiday or many other people.
The worst, and most misleading, thing about the album is probably its title. Not only is the majority of these tracks completely undeserving of the name «hidden treasures» («unwrapped cookies» might have been a more telling expression), but «Lioness»? What's that supposed to mean? Okay, so it is actually the name of the record label she set up herself in 2009; but using it for an album title is not only unimaginative, it is plain wrong — the word suggests something like a combination of beauty, brawn, and aggression, which is not her style at all. Leave that crap for, I dunno, Courtney Love.
Anyway, that is just a minor complaint — on the whole, the album does not seem to have any flaws except for the most obvious one (not being an actual album). It goes without saying that if you have been overwhelmed by Back To Black, you need to hear this; but it is also clear that Lioness on its own will not attract any new fans to the legend, certainly not on the same level that the legend's death has attracted. A modest, perfunctory thumbs up here.
Check "Lioness: Hidden Treasures" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Lioness: Hidden Treasures" (MP3) on Amazon