Album review: Amy Winehouse, ‘Lioness: Hidden Treasures’ (Universal Republic)

January 4, 2012

Whatever your thoughts on the very public self-destruction of much-hyped Motown girl group/’60s jazz-soul revivalist Amy Winehouse, you’ve got to grant that the inevitable grave-robbing of her every recorded utterance is a tragedy akin to those experienced by Tupac Shakur and Jimi Hendrix, at least if one assumes that the dozen tracks collected on this first of no doubt several posthumous releases constitute the best of what she left behind.

Me, I neverquite bought Winehouse as the modern reincarnation of Etta James or Ronnie Spector; from the towering beehive and gallons of mascara on down, her shtick all was just a bit too obvious, pandering, and soulless. But the best moments of her 2003 debut Frank and 2006 breakthrough Back to Black certainly were better than what her regular producers and co-conspirators Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson compile on Lioness.

The singer stumbles like an extra from The Walking Dead through wooden, uninspired covers such as “The Girl from Ipanema,” “Our Day Will Come,” and an especially clunky “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” undone by a laughably bad arrangement. And even worse are the two reductive originals, one an outtake from the last disc and the other an alternate version of an earlier single, with rapper Nas sounding as lost and clueless on “Like Smoke” as Tony Bennett does on the cover of “Body and Soul.”

With the slight hint of a devilish, postmodern wink and a disdainful sneer standing as the best and most original thing she brought to her recycled sounds, it’s disappointing how safe and reverent Winehouse is with this material. Clearly, she wasn’t all there during these recordings, and now we never will have the chance to learn whether she was capable of more and better or not.

Rating on the four-star scale: 1/2 star.