Artist: Amy Winehouse
Album: Back To Black
Genre: Jazz / Soul
Quality: FLAC (tracks+.cue)
- Rehab (3:34)
- You Know I'm No Good (4:17)
- Me & Mr. Jones (2:33)
- Just Friends (3:13)
- Back To Black (4:01)
- Love Is A Losing Game (2:35)
- Tears Dry On Their Own (3:06)
- Wake Up Alone (3:42)
- Some Unholy War (2:22)
- He Can Only Hold Her (2:48)
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"They tried to make me go to rehab," wails Amy Winehouse on the opening track and first single from her second album Back to Black. It's not typical pop song fodder, but Winehouse isn't a typical pop singer. If she winds up as popular in the U.S. as she is at home in the UK, it'll be despite her reluctance to embrace the monotonous realities of promotional mechanics. Oh, she'll talk, but there's no guarantee what she'll say. (Our favorite is her heckling of Bono at last year's Q Awards: "Shut up, I don't give a fuck!") She'll be scheduled to perform, but there's no guarantee what she'll do, or even if she'll make it through the show. And she'll sing about her problems, but she won't give a shit what you think of them.
If this makes Winehouse read a little like Lily Allen, that's not far off the mark. Both are larger-than-life singers who've found perfect vehicles for their outsized personalities. In Allen's case, it's a cocktail of pop, reggae, and hip-hop, with a cigarette in hand; for Winehouse, it's soul, jazz, and blues with a bottle of booze. Both pay tribute to their influences, with Winehouse's lyrics featuring shout-outs to Ray Charles, Donny Hathaway, and Slick Rick, and the two even share a producer: Mark Ronson, who's also worked with everyone from Sean Paul and Macy Gray to Ghostface and Rhymefest.
But Winehouse is anything but a Lily Allen doppelgänger. After all, soul and jazz music are typically considered the province of grownups, and while Winehouse could be accused of slipping on these styles like costumes, she imbues her music with a surprisingly genuine soulfulness.
Ronson's sneaky production provides most of the album's wit: The old school backdrop to "Me & Mr. Jones" is especially winking against couplets like "What kind of fuckery is this? You made me miss the Slick Rick gig." But Winehouse's zingers (in that same song she tells her subject "'side from Sammy you're my best black Jew") and profane interjections (the title track begins "He left no time to regret/ Kept his dick wet") are only an occasional thing as she travels a well-worn lyrical path to both clinical and romantic rehabilitation.
Songs like "Love Is a Losing Game" are full of regret, even if Winehouse refuses to wallow entirely in self-pity. However, as one might expect following the declaration of "Rehab", Winehouse does spend much of Back to Black on the defensive, trying to explain why she's stayed with the same guy who's done her wrong, or, in the case of "Wake Up Alone", why her ex gives her the night sweats ("I drip for him tonight," Winehouse less delicately puts it).
It's one of the eternal themes of soul music, here spiced up with post-modern production where less forceful personalities might have gone with strictly retro emulation. The references to girl groups, northern soul, and ska are there, but no one would confuse these approximations (split evenly between Ronson and Salaam Remi, who produced Winehouse's since-disowned debut) with the real thing.
Fortunately, Winehouse has been blessed by a brassy voice that can transform even mundane sentiments into powerful statements. She may be heartbroken, but she uses that ache, twisting the emotional scars to suit her songs-- and if she often seems like the masochistic recipient of each knife twist, so be it. It's not until the album's final track, "He Can Only Hold Her", that Winehouse finally switches from first person to third, the "I"s and "me"s giving way to "he"s and "she"s, suggesting that she's finally become an objective observer, able to see her personal issues for what they are. "He tries to pacify her, 'cause what's inside never dies," she sings, and we can only assume from this new vantage that Winehouse has moved on.