Amy Winehouse’s Back to BlackBy admin | May 29th, 2011 | Category: 2007, Indie Hotspot, Summer 2007 | No Comments »
Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black
A few weeks ago I was arguing with a friend from across the pond on which of us would claim Amy Winehouse for our own. I argued since she already had a boyfriend, it was too late for her to play the lesbian card. She countered that American imperialists have stolen enough women from England. I know what you’re thinking. Why fight over just another alcoholic twenty-three-year-old Jewish female Motown singer from London? O. K., maybe that wasn’t what you were thinking. This isn’t another cookie cutter chanteuse , and that’s the point. She’s not only reinterpreting the sound of a forgotten era, but she has the emotional sincerity to back it up. Our standoff was ended with the news of her marriage to Blake Fielder-Civil. I guess I’ll have to start wooing a Pipette.
Winehouse’s first album, Frank , was a huge success in England but wasn’t released stateside. I strongly recommend the album if you can find it. Her latest, Back to Black , raised her to new levels both commercially and artistically. After completing Frank , she met her eventual husband. Infidelity and the usual self-destructive behavior ensued, leading to an extended break-up laying the emotional groundwork to Back to Black , with such telling tracks as “Tears Dry on Their Own,” “Love Is a Losing Game,” and “Wake Up Alone.”
In a world of cardboard cutouts lip-synching prefabricated songs, an artist like Amy Winehouse is a punch to the gut. These songs aren’t only the despair of a regretful lover. They drip with innate sexiness and pays homage to Sarah Vaughn and the Shangri-Las without being bound to innuendo of their eras. Collaborating on the sound for half the album was New York producer Mark Ronson, who brought in the fabulous Dap Kings, best known for their work backing Sharon Jones. This perfect storm of Winehouse, her tumultuous relationship with Blake, Ronson’s vision, and the Dap Kings made this one of the best albums of 2007.
The first song and single is “Rehab,” inspired after her label attempted to get her treatment for alcohol abuse, to which, according to the song, she replied “No, no, no” just in time for the Spring wave of drunken debutantes. “Me and Mr. Jones” has possibly my favorite line of the year so far with “What kind of fuckery are we? Nowadays you don’t mean dick to me?” You never heard the Supremes say that.
Every song but “He Can Only Hold Her” is written in first person with words that could have been ripped from a journal. We may not agree with the way Winehouse lives her life, but we can understand the passions that went in to her songs, though at no point does she ask for our sympathy; and judging by her career, she doesn’t want it. It isn’t just the words. She has a gin-soaked voice, ill fitting of her age, and over her short career she has shown impressive musical instincts. If you still have doubts, go download the album’s namesake “Back to Black” or “You Know I’m No Good”; and if at the end of the song you’re not transported to a time when bars were smokey and jazz was king, then feel free to ignore me.
The problem with reviewing Back to Black is that Winehouse the artist and Winehouse the person are so intertwined that you can’t separate the two. On one hand you have this small woman with a beehive singing beyond her years. On the other you have a troubled woman who has a history of cutting herself, eating disorders, and substance abuse. During her Coachella performance, the crowd cheered every time she took a drink. Rarely have I been so disgusted at an audience. Winehouse has all the warning signs of a tragic “Behind the Music” episode. Maybe the marriage will help her live happily ever after. Maybe not. History is littered with the craters of shooting stars, but Amy Winehouse has created two records that should be in your collection, and that’s better than most. I give Back to Black 4 stars.