Despite the best efforts of producers Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson, Lioness: Hidden Treasures, the first posthumous Amy Winehouse release since the singer’s death earlier this year, too often sounds like a cobbled-together cash grab. Lacking the scope or vision of Frank and Back to Black, the compilation simply can’t replicate the creativity and inimitable point of view that made Winehouse such a compelling artist. In retrospect, that she was unable to overcome her struggles with addiction gives even greater weight to the self-loathing streak that runs through Back to Black, making that album a far more effective swan song for Winehouse than the odds-and-ends collection Lioness could ever hope to be.
The majority of Lioness consists of covers Winehouse recorded between 2002 and 2009, some of which are given new arrangements by Remi and Ronson. To that end, the finest vocal turn Winehouse gives here is on Carole King’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” Ronson doesn’t touch Winehouse’s powerhouse, emotional vocal track, taken from the soundtrack to Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, but he brings in the DAP-Kings to give the song a completely new production scheme, replacing a relatively stripped-down R&B groove with a full-bore, bombastic arrangement that actively undermines the drama in Winehouse’s performance. The original, half-tempo version of “Valerie” that Winehouse and Ronson recorded together has the opposite problem, lacking the strut and swagger that made the original a truly winning single. Better versions of most of these songs have been widely available for the better part of the six years.
The original cuts on the album, then, are its main selling point, but they aren’t anywhere near as sharp as Winehouse’s best songs. All that “Between the Cheats” has going for it is its cute title, while “Halftime,” a collaboration that Winehouse, Remi, and Questlove had been working on since the Frank sessions, finds the singer using a nasal drone to repeat the line “Half time/Time to think it through/Consider the change/See it from a different view” over a dozen times. When placed alongside the demo versions of “Tears Dry on Their Own” and “Wake Up Alone,” it’s all the more obvious that the new songs here only hint at Winehouse’s full capabilities as a songwriter.
Lioness adds nothing of substance to the Winehouse narrative, nor do its individual tracks showcase the best of her writing or singing. “The Girl from Ipanema” proves that her voice hadn’t ripened by 2002, while “Body and Soul,” the duet taken from Tony Bennett’s latest release, is notable only because it’s Winehouse’s final studio recording. While there’s no doubt that Remi and Ronson are sincere in their affection for Winehouse and used their collaborations with her to produce some of the most inspired work of their careers, they haven’t done Winehouse any favors with Lioness.