After a long and well-chronicled struggle with drugs and drink, British singing phenom Amy Winehouse succumbed to fatal alcohol poisoning in July 2011. Lioness: Hidden Treasures represents a posthumous effort to gather her works-in-progress, some from earlier in her career, some recorded shortly before her death. It features a collection of demos chosen by her producers, Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi, along with input from her family.
Winehouse’s signature neo-soul sound is instantly recognizable in both original tracks and covers of old hits such as 1963’s “Our Day Will Come” by Ruby & The Romantics and The Shirelle’s 1960 smash “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” As was the case with her previous efforts, most notably 2006’s Grammy-winning Back to Black, Winehouse’s haunting, husky voice hearkens back to that era even when she’s not covering something from it. She effortlessly blends strands of jazz, R&B and soul, unleashing line after line of raw, lovelorn lyrics.
“Our Day Will Come” is one of the few unabashedly happy moments on the album. A young couple struggles with suggestions that they’re too young to really be in love (“No one can tell me/That I’m too young to know”), but they look forward to that love growing toward maturity (“Our day will come/If we just wait a while/No tears for us/Think love, and wear a smile”).
On “Wake Up Alone,” a woman trying to put the emotional pieces back together after a breakup talks about how she hasn’t turned to alcohol to dull the pain (“Least I’m not drinking”). Rapper Nas makes contributions to two songs. On one of them, “Like Smoke,” he wonders why someone (perhaps Amy?) died prematurely, and he ponders a reunion in the afterlife: “Why did God take away the homie?/ … I’m a firm believer that we all meet up in eternity.” (Note that Nas makes no mention of why someone might end up in heaven as opposed to hell.)
Intimacy between a man and a woman on “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” prompts her to question the wisdom of that choice, but …
… she doesn’t get to the point of questioning his commitment until after, it seems, she’s given herself away (“Tonight you’re mine, completely/ … Is this a lasting treasure/Or just a moment’s pleasure?”).
Amy’s trying to console herself after a split on “Tears Dry,” even as she profanely ponders her propensity for ending up with bad-news dudes: “I should just be my own best friend/Not f‑‑‑ myself in the head with stupid men.” Another beau seems to meet that description as well on “Between the Cheats.” And “Wake Up Alone” finds the singer pining for and fantasizing about a lover who’s left her.
“Body and Soul” is an old-school duet with Tony Bennett in which both admit they’d give everything to the other … even though their relationship is a train wreck: “My life, a wreck you’re making/You know I’m yours for the very taking/I’d gladly surrender myself to you, body and soul.”
“Best Friends, Right?” finds two people struggling to relate in healthy ways (“We only communicate when we need to fight/ … You’re too good at pretending you don’t care”). But that doesn’t stop them from indulging their shared love for smoking pot together (“There’s no one I wanna smoke with more/Someday, I’ll buy the Rizla, you get the dro/’Cause we’re best friends, right?”). Elsewhere, she talks about how marijuana is their main means of conflict resolution (“It’s so easy to smoke it up, forget/Everything that happened”).
One of the album’s foulest—and strangest—lines comes courtesy of Nas, who raps, “You colder than penguin p‑‑‑y.” Later he comes back to the unlikely subject of penguin genitals, saying, “See, a penguin, he drags his s‑‑‑ on the ground all day.”
This is an aching album that lays bare the soul of a lost woman who simply ran out of time to be found before her personal demons and brokenness consumed her. Some troubled musicians are granted the luxury of years to grow, to struggle through to a more mature perspectives on what matters in life, on how to weather its trials and temptations.
Amy Winehouse was not. But listening to her sing about broken romances and unfulfilled longings, I couldn’t help but wonder whether a few more years might have granted the tortured British singer some sort of healthy perspective on life and love that feels so painfully absent on Lioness: Hidden Treasures.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.