Posthumous albums do a roaring trade - Monocolumn | Monocle


A daily bulletin of news & opinion

8 November 2011

Lioness: Hidden Treasures will be the last Amy Winehouse album. It would be nice to be able to call it the next Amy Winehouse album, but it’ll be a full stop, not a comma in the short, incendiary career of the singing beehive. Or will it? The trade in posthumous albums is red hot.

Clearly it’s not difficult to Google a printable tonne of responses to the news of the release of Lioness that tell you it’s either the best news since they dropped the needle on the wonderful Back to Black album or the most objectionable travesty since, well, the last time this happened. Which, you’re right, wasn’t long ago.

And that, in terms of dead superstars’ albums, would be Michael, one of the horde of posthumous releases that crawled out of Michael Jackson’s back catalogue of unreleased material like something grizzly from the Thriller video. Michael was released last November, just in time for Christmas.

Don’t worry if you’re finally tired of listening to the crucible of off-cuts, misfires and half-arsing that is Michael, though – Jacko’s got another record just in time for Christmas – Immortal – which describes itself as “the highly anticipated musical tapestry for Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour.” A world tour with the songs but not the singer. Apparently, Immortal, “takes a fresh, creative approach in redesigning and reimagining more than 40 of Michael Jackson’s greatest original recordings.”

It’s the language of the knowingly disingenuous press release, the one that doesn’t even sound like it’s trying because it hates itself to death. If you need to reimagine “Billie Jean”, you shouldn’t be in the music industry.

Jackson and Winehouse are clearly different beasts – although their untimely deaths and endless allegations of drug abuse bind them, they were both marketed as very different performers, very different musical brands, if you like – while Jackson traded as the King of Pop, implying and embodying – at least at veneer level – an unimpeachable perfection – in his singing and songwriting, his collaborations with best-in-the-world producers and his candy and ice cream public utterances. Winehouse traded as a Camden jazz singer, a messy modern British pop star, a post-Britpop, post Damien Hirst’sYoung British Artists, cigarettes and alcohol-loving slice of real womanhood attending to the real problems of fame and addiction – and occasionally doing it with the belligerence of a proper punk.

And this anti-brand is a brand in itself. Winehouse’s rebellious reputation doesn’t quite suit the “just in time for Christmas” market as neatly as the very alive and seemingly in control ballads of real life and real love doled out by, say, Adele, but it’s still a potent force that her label, Island Records, would perhaps be fools to deny.

Amy Winehouse joins a rich and phenomenally successful roster of posthumous album releases and re-releases of former glories – acts as diverse as Queen, Johnny Cash, Biggie Smalls and Michael Jackson have all been plundered – while Elvis, Tupac Shakur and Kurt Cobain all released more music from beyond the grave than they did while they were still able to take to the stage.

Having said that, I’m optimistic about the spirit of Amy Winehouse’s Lioness and its content. Amy Winehouse experimented with a lot more than brandy and coke in the studio and her jazz renditions of one song, would become an R n B take at a later date only to be superseded by a ballad rendition of the same song; she was interesting and her takes and out-takes won’t just be for anoraks or the ghoulishly-inclined. I won’t refund your tenner come release date but I’ll bet it’s better than anything pretending to be immortal.


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