October 24, 2006
Review: Amy Winehouse "Back To Black"
Prior to September, I knew nothing of Amy Winehouse except that she’d released a track called, cleverly, Fuck Me Pumps (watch the video). Then I heard Rehab and realized that this British/Jewish/anorexic rock chick is potentially a major new artist. Amy's new CD Back To Black is one of those "stars-aligned" efforts. So much so that when Christina Aguilera hears it, she will cry out and careen around the room, her fake boobs finally tipping her over.
Winehouse takes the listener on a very authentic tour through the history of soul music. BTB has everything a record needs: strong melodies, whipsmart lyrics, master-class singing, great arrangements and ultimately, a unique personality...fucked up and self-medicated as it may be [I’ll touch on that later].
You too have probably heard Rehab (watch the video), which may be the hookiest single this fall, with its chorus of "Tryin' to make me go to rehab, but I said No No No!" That phrase is starting to seep into popular culture. A Popjustice message board comment this week: They're trying to knock Lily Allen down, but I say No no no.
Me And Mr. Jones references the similarly-titled soul classic and features retro girl backup vocals and tootin’ horns. Just Friends, which works an early 70’s smooth vibe, depicts a woman who cannot control herself in an affair with married man (“the guilt will kill you if she don’t first”).
My first listen to the title track Back To Black (watch the video) was the moment when I realized this is one of the best albums of the year. This song is the finest Shirley Bassey moment that legend never recorded. It has such a big sound, with booming drums, chiming percussion and strings, even a bit of surf guitar. Just when you get into the sway of the song, it delivers a surprise at 2:43: a bridge that changes the tempo into an eerie dirge as Amy gives in to her darkest motions, chanting black over and over.
Love Is A Losing Game has a Dusty-meets-Bacharach coolness that is more vulnerable than most of the album. It's heartbreaking and erotic, really: "For you I was a flame / Love is a losing game / Five story fire as you came / Love is a losing game." Tears Dry On Their Own has a cool urgency: check the clicking noise running through it. It's hard to be articulate about a song that gives me chills and makes me wanna run around screaming about the fabulousness (no tipping over).
This album is wine soaked, pot-smoked and cheatin' obsessed. It is constant in its reference to addictive behaviors. Check out these lines from album closer, the hilarious Addicted (watch a live video):
Tell your boyfriend next time he around
To buy his own weed and
Don’t wear my shit down…
When you smoke all my weed, man,
Ya gots ta call the green man,
So I can get mine
And you get yours
Unfortunately, Amy Winehouse appears to be imploding. At the point her artistry reaches a new peak, she seems out of control with weight issues (too thin at times), drinking, assaulting fans and - worse for her career - disastrous public performances, where she is so sloshed she cannot adequately perform. I hope she keeps this in check because, as we saw with Whitney Houston, an artist does not own their talent. They manage it. And if they fail to manage it, that talent will depart them as fast as the buzz wears off.
Whatever the truth - and it should be noted that she is only 23 - I urge to spend your hard earned money on Back To Black and buy it for all your soul-lovin' family and friends. Not since Shelby Lynne have I heard an artist doing this sort of music with such elan. Amy Winehouse, God bless her, is the real deal.