Music

‘It’s Like Having a Little of Them Back’: Fans Review ‘New’ Music By Their Favourite Dead Artists

A new initiative has released AI-generated songs by artists from the notorious 27 Club. But can they do justice to the legends?
April 19, 2021, 11:45am
Amy Winehouse, Jim Morisson, and Kurt Cobain
From left to right: Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain. Photos from Wiki Commons

Every day we wake up to the news of artificial intelligence getting one step closer to imitating us humans—from generating pick-up lines (“I'm losing my voice from all the screaming your hotness is causing me to do”), to humanoids who can take care of the sick and elderly. The advancements of AI have also helped bring the dead to life and we can now listen to “new” music by our favourite dead artists. 

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Over the Bridge, an initiative that aims to raise mental health awareness in the music community, released an album titled Lost Tapes of the 27 Club. The “27 Club” refers to artists who died at the age of 27 leaving behind an irreplaceable legacy. The album features four songs, each a re-rendition of an artist from the 27 Club. Everything in these songs is created by an AI, from the lyrics, backing vocals, instrumentals, and of course, the main vocals. Thanks to the algorithm that isolated hooks, melodies, rhythms, and lyrics, these songs are thematically similar but still “new”. The AI generated elements were then composed into an album with the help of an audio engineer. “Because even AI will never replace the real thing,” the website says. 

With this, Over the Bridge wants their playlist to shine a light on mental health of musicians. According to a UK based study, 68 percent of musicians said they had depression, and 87 percent reported that their mental health had deteriorated since the onset of the pandemic. “As long as there’s been popular music, musicians and crews have struggled with mental health at a rate far exceeding the general adult population,” the initiative’s website reads. Ethically speaking, AI renditions or deepfake music is questionable territory. It is poised to open up legal, ethical and political ramifications for the music industry, alongside sparking questions on who really is the artist behind such music.

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But leaving that aside for a moment, is this “new” music any good?

For fans of these dead stars, where does this music stand? Would they add it to their legends’ playlist? Does it give them a moment of solace to get an opportunity to revisit their icons in a way? Or is this all just eerie and leaves behind more existential questions? We asked around.

“You’re Gonna Kill Me” by Jimi Hendrix

Matt Johnson, an electronic engineer from East Sussex, UK, first heard Hendrix’s music in 1992. His music would later inspire Matt to pick up the guitar.

“I could hear what the AI was trying to achieve and it was obviously attempting to emulate Hendrix’s style, but as a musician and a Hendrix fan since 1992, I could instantly tell that it wasn’t Hendrix. The drumming had a hint of Mitch Mitchell to it, which was quite impressive and I could hear what the AI was trying to do technique-wise for Hendrix. But it just didn’t feel like something he would have done. The vocals were the only real Hendrix-esque part to the song although at times it sounded as though there was too much processing as the sound was unclear. Someone like Jimi Hendrix has a massive back catalogue, from which sounds can be taken to help create a more authentic image. Although the ability to create music in this way is very clever, I don’t think this song will have Jimi worrying too much about his position as one of the best guitarists of all time.” 

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Final rating: 5/10

“Drowned in the Sun” by Nirvana 

Kim Johnson, an author and freelance writer from East Sussex in the UK, has been a fan of Nirvana ever since she was 14. She later got the iconic Nirvana smiley inked on her arm. 

“When I first started listening to the track, I thought it was similar to songs I’ve heard by Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots and other grunge-era artists. It definitely has the right guitar tones and vocal sounds, even though it didn’t automatically make me think of Nirvana. The layout of the song was very similar to the way that Kurt [Cobain] would have put together a song for Nirvana. However I felt that the last 30 seconds or so of the track didn’t fit very well with the rest of the song and didn’t feel as though it would fit with a Nirvana track. While the skill and technology involved is undoubtedly clever, there were too many differences when compared with an authentic Nirvana track for it to be convincing. It was very cleverly done and you could definitely feel what the AI was trying to achieve with a Nirvana/grunge vibe, but it wasn’t convincing enough for me. If I’d heard that song on a playlist of Nirvana music, it would stick out and be quite obvious that it is different.”

Final rating: 7/10 

“Man, I Know” by Amy Winehouse

 Jean Trend-Hill, an actress from Islington, London, knew Amy Winehouse in the early 2000s.

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“I had the privilege of knowing Amy since the early 2000s. We both lived in Camden for a time so I’d see her around. I loved her energy; she was a gentle soul with an incredible talent. I could relate to her music in many ways, and I always felt it was written from the heart. I also thought the retro vibes were different to stuff being released at the same time. It was music you could laugh or cry to depending on your mood. I was devastated when she died. I have a tattoo of a singing blackbird on my ankle in her memory which is the symbol on her grave. I visit her at the cemetery often. The song gave me goosebumps, when the instrumental began I would have known it was an Amy track before it started. The AI did a phenomenal job. A few years ago, I might have felt it was a little creepy to recreate songs by dead artists but now I think it’s like having a little of them back.  I would give it a 10 out of 10. It makes me want to hear more.”

Final rating: 10/10

“The Roads Are Alive” by The Doors

Priya Sharma, a musician from Jodhpur, India first listened to The Doors while she was in high school. They would later become a big influence on the way she wrote music. 

“As a musician, The Doors have had a big impact on me. The AI has done an average job. If you'd not have told me about the band's name, I wouldn't have guessed that this music was made from a number of songs produced by The Doors. The overall groove is very repetitive and sounds much like an amalgamation of the sound of Deep Purple’s Shades of Deep Purple album (1968) and some modern-day rock bands like Greta Van Fleet. I love Deep Purple very much and even GVF, but the AI messed up a bit. [Ray] Manzarek would be slightly unhappy and [Jim] Morrison’s digital/automated voice doesn't sound anything like his own voice. This is a great initiative. However, I do believe that it’s impossible to come closer to such great bands (sorry about my lack of faith in modern day technology). But yeah, they still did a good job with Nirvana. It might make young people listen to all these old bands, who knows!”

Final Rating: 4/10

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