Heaven or hell? The problem of the posthumous album

A new Cranberries album is due, featuring the vocals of Dolores ORiordan. But the issue of what a late musician would have wanted is often a dilemma for both bands and the fans

After much consideration we have decided to finish what we started, the remaining members of the Cranberries wrote on their website this month, announcing their first new album since 2012. Dolores ORiordan, who died earlier this year, had already finished recording her vocals: theres no sense her parts would have needed to be imagineered. However, the ouija board of what dead musicians would have wanted is a faint and often baffling instrument.

Posthumous albums come in two forms: the Cobble and the Legacy. The former is the least lovable. Michael Jacksons first posthumous release, 2010s Michael, was so threadbare that his family strongly questioned whether it was him singing on three of its tracks the so-called Cascio Tapes. I immediately said it wasnt his voice, mused brother Randy on Twitter when he heard them. Artistically, Cobbles are normally justified on grounds of completism: that they tell us something new about the artist, and occasionally turf up the odd gem that deserves to see the light of day. On that score, something like Jacksons Do You Know Where Your Children Are, from his second posthumous album, Xscape (2014), ticks all boxes: both a solid jam and a jarring lyrical premise. Cobbles can also offer Stalinesque revisionism: some of Lisa Left Eye Lopess verses on TLCs 3D released seven months after her death in 2002 were spliced together from old solo album cast-offs. There was even a delayed ouija conjure from obsessively private, label-hating control freak Kurt Cobain; his 2015 soundtrack Montage of Heck a series of solo sonic doodles and Beatles covers only saw light of day when the Nirvana well had run dry.

But the Legacy form of posthumous album brings its own issues. The artist is aware the end is near and, as they face the final curtain, theyll state their case, of which theyre certain. Johnny Cash did it best on his American Recordings series. But after 1991s Innuendo a convincing effort for a band in their third decade Queen went to Switzerland to make Made in Heaven, the lurid fever dream of a man trying to transcend his failing body; a sentimental Freddie crooned that this could be heaven for everyone. Its message for the ages: the unnerving sense that when we rub up against the Reaper, there is often no great clarifying insight to make sense of our tangled lives.

Which is why perhaps the best kind of posthumous record is another category altogether: the Null, ie the one that stays in the can for ever. When Universal Music CEO David Joseph destroyed the demos for Amy Winehouses third album, it was a long-term investment. He may have lost a sack of cash but he won the loyalty of every artist on his roster. Most musicians are OK with dying; few can face the autopsy.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Marissa SafontHeaven or hell? The problem of the posthumous album

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