Anybody who even passingly followed the tabloids probably guessed that Amy Winehouse wasn’t very productive in the years after her 2006 breakthrough Back To Black, as the same addictions that inspired that album prevented her from making another. Winehouse’s first posthumous release, Lioness: Hidden Treasures, reveals just how little she recorded over her final half-decade. Stretched thin at a mere 45 minutes, and padded with inessential covers and alternate takes, the compilation includes only two songs intended for her unrealized third record. “Between The Cheats” is the more realized of the two, juxtaposing grim glimpses into Winehouse’s rocky marriage against a syrupy doo-wop arrangement. (“I’d take a thousand thumps for my love,” she sings in a tattered purr.) The other, “Like Smoke,” is the faintest sketch of a song, a Winehouse chorus that’s been padded with two long Nas verses clearly recorded after her death. (Among the giveaways: He references the Wall Street protests she never lived to see.)
The compilation’s real heartbreaker is a 2009 cover of Leon Russell’s “A Song For You,” which Winehouse slurs her way through as if on the brink of tears. The rest of Lioness isn’t nearly so ragged, though, since much of it was culled from the less troubled early years of the singer’s career, from 2002 to ’04. Back then, Winehouse was still a clear-voiced, relatively traditional jazz-pop singer—sassier than the average coffeehouse siren, but not yet an indelible spitfire. At her creative peak, Winehouse punched up classic song styles with contemporary arrangements and a thoroughly modern willfulness, but there are only intermittent displays of that spunk and innovation on these early leftovers, some of which have been posthumously fitted with schmaltzy, nostalgia-by-numbers orchestrations. The result is a collection so clean-scrubbed that it sometimes seems to be eulogizing an entirely different singer than the one fans remember.