While Amy Winehouse’s musical legacy is by no stretch of the imagination underrated (particularly after the recent release of Asif Kapadia’s documentary, Amy), her posthumous final album, Lioness: Hidden Treasures, tends to be overlooked in her canon of work as an overt attempt by record label executives to profit from her death. But the album is so much more than that–a rich aural study in the culmination of Winehouse finding herself outside of the pain and agony of the lyrics that made her sophomore effort, Back to Black, so immensely relatable to a mass audience. It was, in fact, the closest she got to proving that she was capable of even more than her 2006 titan of a record.
Released on December 2, 2011, almost five full months after Winehouse was found dead from alcohol poisoning in her Camden apartment, Lioness: Hidden Treasures reached number one in Britain on the UK Albums Chart and number five in the U.S. on the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart. While this seemingly positive reception based on sales would lead one to believe that the record was given its due reverence, there can be no denying that the public interest in it was largely driven by her premature death.
With the combined efforts of Winehouse’s most beloved producers, Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson, Lioness: Hidden Treasures was given a cohesive sound and feel in spite of most of the tracks being culled from different eras of Winehouse’s career. Even though the first single, “Body and Soul,” was created as a duet for Tony Bennett’s Duets II, which came out on September 20, 2011–six days after what would have been Winehouse’s twenty-eighth birthday–and charted at a mere number 87 on the Billboard Hot 100, it was nonetheless an impressive feat not only because it made Bennett one of the oldest artists to appear on this form of the top 100, but also because the soulful style of music that characterizes “Body and Soul” isn’t generally something one associates with being fit for commercial consumption. Even so, the interest in and zeal for Winehouse worked in the song’s favor.
The second and last single off of, Lioness, “Our Day Will Come,” was originally recorded during the Frank era of Winehouse’s career. The remake, which was first released in 1963 by Ruby & the Romantics, emphasizes the old soul aura that Winehouse conveys in all of her remakes of seminal 60s tracks. Another such example of this on Lioness: Hidden Treasures is Winehouse’s rendering of The Shirelles’ 1960 classic, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” Lending the song her own distinct take, Winehouse offers a new level of earnestness to it, paired with her own brand of sultriness.
Her other classic cover on Lioness, “The Girl From Ipanema,” a bossa nova staple that came out in 1964, showcases Winehouse’s aptitude for scatting, just as she did for the intro to the first track on Frank, “Stronger Than Me.” Again she transforms a 60s standard into something all her own, recreating it in a manner that sounds both totally different while remaining faithful to the original’s aural integrity.
As for Winehouse’s previously unreleased compositions, the obvious favorites are “Best Friends, Right?” and “Like Smoke” featuring Nas (of “Me & Mr Jones” fame). The former was a previous outtake from Frank, while the latter was recorded by Winehouse and Salaam Remi in 2008. Nas’ lyrics were added in later, and included an homage to Winehouse’s death with the sentiment, “I be out in London, Camden/Hunting for the answers/Why did god take away the homie?/I can’t stand it.”
Although demo versions of Back to Black staples like “Tears Dry” and “Wake Up Alone” offer up Winehouse at her most personal, it is arguable that the most intimate song on Lioness is “Between the Cheats,” yet another track lyrically inspired by Blake Fielder-Civil. Favoring a doo-wop influence, the sadness of the story unfolding in the song is mitigated by the upbeat musical and vocal backing. Winehouse gushes, “My husband is the finest handsome hustler and he still makes this housewife blush,” all while being fully aware that they both love one another between the cheats a.k.a. adultery. Recorded in 2008, when Fielder-Civil was still in jail for assault and obstruction of justice, it’s likely that Winehouse was not only perfectly cognizant of Fielder-Civil’s known lothario ways, but was also feeling the temptation of other non-imprisoned types herself (in 2009, she would have a fling with actor Josh Bowman while taking a reprieve from London life in Saint Lucia).
Ironically, one of the lyrics of “Between the Cheats” is “I would die before I divorce ya/I’d take a thousand thumps for my love.” But, of course, Winehouse had taken one too many thumps for said love and had to end it–though it was ultimately Fielder-Civil who filed for their divorce in 2009.
“Half Time,” a decidedly Frank-sounding track, was, indeed, an outtake from the album that blends Winehouse’s budding confidence with her unbridled passion for music, evidenced by the declaration, “Rhythm floods my heart/The melody it feeds my soul/The tune tears me apart, and I swallow it whole.” Indicative of the manner in which Winehouse had to allow her music to consume her, and to give herself fully to it via the pouring of her personal experience into every song, “Half Time” is possibly the most telling in terms of presaging the singer’s destructive path.
Elsewhere, a different incarnation of “Valerie,” one of the most beloved Mark Ronson/Amy Winehouse collaborations regardless of it being yet another cover (this time of Liverpudlian band The Zutons’ second single from their sophomore album, Tired of Hanging Around), provides us with the more buoyant side of Winehouse. For, if nothing else, the torrid chanteuse was a woman of extremes. She had her jubilant half and her melancholic-to-the-point-of-self-decimation one. And that’s what comes across most on Lioness: Hidden Treasures: her emotional complexity.
Though some critics wrote the album off simply as Winehouse’s family members and record label scrambling to make the most (money) out of a bad situation, Lioness truly is an indication of how multi-faceted Winehouse was in her vocal and stylistic ability. This can best be summed up by the words and theme of the final song on the record, “A Song For You” (yes, a cover by none other than one of Winehouse’s favorite idols, Donny Hathaway): “I’ve acted out my life on stages/With ten thousand people watching/But we’re alone now and I’m singing this song for you.” That was the relationship Winehouse had–and has–with her listeners; it always felt like she was singing her songs just for you, about the heartache you’ve experienced.