Posthumous Albums: Music from the Great Beyond

kurt cobain

Following the recent death of David Bowie his music dominated the charts and Blackstar became his first ever number one album in the US. As bleak as the mourning period may be, death can be rather profitable. Michael Jackson for instance was in debt before his death, and a few months afterwards his estate had made millions. Record labels often use this fervour to produce albums long after an artist has passed away. The question is whether they should, or whether they should just let people rest in peace?

Posthumous albums are nothing new. The first posthumous number one album in the UK was Otis Redding’s The Dock of the Bay in 1968.  However in my opinion albums such as this fall into a different category. Redding died in a plane crash just three days after he had finished recording the album. The album’s subsequent release was an attempt to honour his wishes and share something that he had worked hard on, rather than just an attempt to cash in. It’s a similar case with Joy Division; they released their second album Closer and the band’s only number one single ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ shortly after the suicide of lead singer Ian Curtis for the simple reason that it would be what he would have wanted.

Releasing an album someone worked hard on is one thing, but with some acts things get taken too far. Jimi Hendrix only released three albums while he was alive, but around four times as many have been released in his name posthumously. Where they are plucking that many extra songs from in the first place? Two of the worst cases in recent years are Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse. A documentary about Cobain entitled Montage of Heck featured rare recordings and home videos. As someone who often avoided media attention I can’t help but think it would be the last thing he’d want. A similarly invasive documentary about Amy Winehouse, which has received heavy criticism from her family, has resulted in her being posthumously nominated for a Brit Award. It certainly must be somewhat insulting for the British women who have worked hard to produce music over the past year only to be snubbed in favour of someone who has been dead for 5 years.

There have been rumours of there being several albums worth of unused material from David Bowie which could be released in subsequent years, but I feel that would be a mistake. Bowie was a secretive person, he knew that Blackstar would be his last album and purposely left it as his final swansong. I think churning out unused demos for years to come is disrespecting his memory.