Heaven or hell? The problem of the posthumous album
A new Cranberries album is due, featuring the vocals of Dolores O’Riordan. 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 O’Riordan, who died earlier this year, had already finished recording her vocals: there’s 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 Jackson’s first posthumous release, 2010’s 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 wasn’t 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 Jackson’s 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” Lopes’s verses on TLC’s 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.