The new documentary “Amy” is re-igniting the buzz that once surrounded Amy Winehouse, but if you’re hoping to hear more music from the late singer, you can forget it. The late singer’s label head has revealed that fans will probably never lay ears on a third Amy Winehouse album because he destroyed the demos.
If that doesn’t sting enough, the singer reportedly had planned to get back to recording with Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi, who’d helped coax her brilliant, big-band infused classic “Back to Black” out of her in the first place.
“It was a moral thing,” David Joseph, Winehouse’s one-time label head at Universal Music U.K, told Billboard for its latest issue. “Taking a stem or a vocal is not something that would ever happen on my watch. It now can’t happen on anyone else’s.”
The singer, who died from alcohol poisoning in 2011 at age 27, released “Back to Black” stateside in 2007, only to leave fans hungry for a follow-up for years as her personal woes grew worse. She has already had her name slapped on one posthumous record, “Lioness: Hidden Treasures,” a patchwork of nearly a decade’s worth of odds-and-ends recorded by the singer. But the prospect of a follow-up to “Back to Black” and her promising debut album, “Frank,” always possibly seemed in the cards, particularly because the long gap after “Back to Black” would have given the singer plenty of time to record it.
Remi told Billboard that the singer, who was gifted at writing her own wry and poetic songs, had “probably finished the writing process a few weeks before she passed. As far as I could see, we had 14 songs. Whatever needed to happen, it was right there.”
Still, it’s understandable why Joseph might have called the destruction of the demos the moral choice. Posthumous releases are a thorny subject in the music business. They can be seen as one final, exploitative attempt to wean money from an artist no longer around to cash the check — the musical equivalent of a creepy Tupac hologram. And also, they can be terrible, so rough around the edges that they can serve to undo a legacy. (Please see, again: Tupac, who has had seven albums released after his death.) Michael Jackson’s “Xscape,” drew a mixed reaction: “Most of the new tracks on ‘Xscape’ are Timbaland songs featuring Michael Jackson, not the other way around,” wrote Post pop music critic Chris Richards.
Of course, there have been some excellent exceptions to the rule: Notorious B.I.G.’s “Life After Death” and Elliott Smith’s “From a Basement on the Hill” were fully formed, legacy-solidifying efforts. It’s hard to argue whether Winehouse’s demos would have fallen into the latter category, given her downward spiral in her last years.
Unless Joseph was pranking us — the cynic in us can’t help but suspect this is just laying the groundwork to drop one of those “surprise!” albums everyone is doing these days — all we’ll have from Winehouse is our memories.