Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Posthumous music perils

The mystery of how much music Amy Winehouse managed to record in the five years between Back to Black and her untimely death looks to have been solved by the tracklisting of her “new” album Lioness.

A handful of recent songs have been padded out with cover versions, alternate takes and unreleased songs stretching back to 2002. Of necessity it’s a thing of threads and patches.

Posthumous albums are troubling entities, in which the sincere desire to give unheard material an airing is coloured by commercial imperatives.

The best are cohesive collections that would have been released in happier circumstances, such as Nirvana’s emotionally loaded MTV Unplugged in New York. Other strong contenders, such as Elliott Smith’s From a Basement on the Hill, were thoughtful attempts at giving closure to unfinished projects.

Doing it with dignity
An awareness of mortality can give such afterlife transmissions real gravitas — Johnny Cash’s lion-in-winter baritone justified two posthumous additions to his American Recordings series.

The secret is to allow the departed artist some dignity. Two months after the 1996 murder of Tupac Shakur, The Don Killuminati: the 7 Day Theory was solid enough, but his backlog of recorded vocals led to a decade-long musical version of Weekend at Bernie’s, with poor old Tupac’s corpse propped up and dragged around town, duetting with people he had never met, on albums such as the ominously titled Until the End of Time.

Michael Jackson’s Michael was just as macabre: less a lap of honour than a forced march through the wreckage of a burnt-out talent.

Perhaps the oddest posthumous career is that of Eva Cassidy, whose Songbird compilation topped the British charts a full five years after she died in obscurity. A half-dozen more posthumous albums have since hit the Top 10. Winehouse may have led a difficult, truncated life but at least she got to experience success firsthand. –

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Dorian Lynskey
Dorian Lynskey works from London. Writer for Guardian, Q, etc. Columnist for New Statesman & GQ. Host Remainiacs podcast. The Ministry of Truth: A Biography of George Orwell's 1984 out 30 May. Dorian Lynskey has over 31434 followers on Twitter.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

The ANC, DA and EFF ‘oblivious’ to climate crisis —...

The Climate Justice Charter Movement has critiqued the manifestos of the main parties contesting the local government elections and found them ‘shallow’

South Africa’s mothballed ‘supermall-ification’ sets strip malls up for success

Analysts agree that the country has enough malls and that, post-Covid, the convenience of local centres lure customers

More top stories

Mkhwebane will not oppose Mabuyane’s application to interdict remedial action

In papers filed on Tuesday, Mkhwebane said that she would abide by the court’s decision in the matter.

The ANC, DA and EFF ‘oblivious’ to climate crisis —...

The Climate Justice Charter Movement has critiqued the manifestos of the main parties contesting the local government elections and found them ‘shallow’

Waste pickers should be seen as essential workers

Come rain or sun, waste pickers push their trolleys full of recycled material. But despite providing an environmental service they are not treated as the public-service workers they are

Deputy president Mabuza begs Tshwane voters: ‘Don’t abandon the ANC’

Angry Atteridgeville residents hurl insults at ‘dysfunctional’ ANC full of ‘corrupt individuals’ as Mabuza fails to placate them with party T-shirts and doeks
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×