Me & Ms. Winehouse

Alright. It’s been a pretty crazy week, but I’ve got a good one for you this week so I’m gonna cut straight to the chase.

Album: Back To Black                                                                      Artist: Amy Winehouse

Album cover featured on the American release
Album cover featured on the American release

I would like to preface this album with a few things first. I think this might be the first female artist I’ve written about (someone check me on that???) and I’m not sure why because I’m actually quite the feminist. Second, I don’t think I can say anything about Amy Winehouse that hasn’t been said before. Not only was she an amazing artist, but the media decided to turn the poor girl into everyone’s entertainment source and I don’t think that’s what she deserved. I feel like I’m contributing to that a little, however, a movie titled Amy was just released, and in the spirit of honoring her voice I’ve decided to hopefully at least introduce some of you to the amazing girl behind the media sideshow.

I would also like to note that the album I’m writing about is the American release, and instead of including “Addicted” as the eleventh track, a remix of “You Know I’m No Good” was included and I will not be including either in my review.

So where should I even begin? I think everyone knows Amy Winehouse because of her hit song “Rehab,” but she was actually popular in the UK before that song even got to America. She only released two albums before her death of alcohol poisoning on July 23, 2011, but she is widely regarded as one of the most amazing female artists of her generation. Her death procured a lot of interest in the ever so famous 27 Club (if you don’t know what it is, click the link to find out) and she became even more famous posthumously. During her fame, her struggles with drug addiction and alcoholism, her on again off again relationship with her husband, and her frequent outbursts in public were under constant scrutiny by the media and she struggled with both her fame and her body image, as well as bipolar. I guess in some way, her experiences only prove that sometimes the most talented people are the ones that struggle the most.

And talented she was. Amy Winehouse is listed as number 26 on VH1’s Greatest Women in Music, she won countless Grammy awards, and the album I’m about to tell you about is rated number twenty on Rolling Stone’s 100 Best Albums of the 2000s and number 451 on their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Back To Black was released in the United States in March of 2007. The album had 5 singles: “Rehab,” which was arguably the most famous at least in the States, “You Know I’m No Good,” “Back to Black,” “Love Is A Losing Game,” and “Tears Dry On Their Own.” This album was heavily influenced by the girl groups of the 50s and 60s, and Winehouse would often list several artists from this era as her inspirations. She grew up with a lot of jazz and blues, and she captures it pretty perfectly in her music. The album was produced by Salaam Remi (who had produced her previous album) and most notably Mark Ronson. I don’t think he was lying when he referred to her as his musical soulmate. The two did fabulous work together, combining old sounds with contemporary ones to create a sound that was all Winehouse’s own.

Back To Black, while still bluesy, is less of a jazz album, however. This album was a departure from her first album, Frank, in that is was both more forceful and had heavier blues and R&B influences. I think this album is much darker in both content and sound and I think that’s what I like about it.  The album was recorded with the Dap-Kings, a group that specializes in soul and R&B reminiscent of the 60s, which complements Amy’s voice perfectly.

But we all know that it wasn’t just Amy’s sound that was so distinct. Even though she sounds like something straight out of an old time music club, her lyrics aren’t as innocent as she sounds. Winehouse made no attempt at being indirect. Lyrics like “What kind of f***ery is this?” found in “Me & Mr. Jones (the song was originally supposed to be titled “F***ery”) and “He left no time to regret/Kept his d*** wet/With his same old safe bet,” found in “Back To Black” demonstrate that perfectly. But she’s not profane just to be profane. I think there’s a fine line between unnecessary profanity and the kind of profanity that carries a meaning that can’t be captured otherwise. Winehouse was characteristically aggressive, but she was also a poet. Her lyrics would be amazing without her voice, but when she sings lines like “Memories mar my mind,” found in “Love Is A Losing Game,” it’s like she’s putting a spell on you.

Her vocals range from the ever so sweet “Just Friends” and “Love Is A Loosing Game” to the forceful and determined “Rehab” and “You Know I’m No Good.” The control she has over her voice is also notable — there aren’t a lot of artists that can manipulate their vocals the way she can. And of course, the album wouldn’t be complete without “Tears Dry On Their Own,” a self-power anthem set to the chords of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Critic after critic praises her wit and her ability to be simultaneously classy and absolutely profane. She’s also praised for her tributes to her influences, as she manages to both incorporate but not copy them in her own style (see the Pitchfork article below).

And now I’ve written 900 words on the subject. Honestly, I feel the same about this album as I do few others. There just aren’t enough words. I can’t completely tell you via this blog post how amazing this album is, or just how beautiful her vocals are, or just how tortured her soul was, and I can’t tell you how amazing her lyrics are. That is for you to discover. Every song on this album is good.

So there you have it. If you listen to any one album on this blog, listen to this one (which I’ll probably say again, let’s be honest). You won’t regret it. I like to think that she and the rest of the 27 Club are up there still writing great music, which I know is kinda stupid, but it makes me feel better. Go listen to Amy Winehouse, and until next time, keep listening.

Honorable Song Mentions: You Know I’m No Good, Back To Black, Tears Dry On Their Own, He Can Only Hold Her (my personal favorite on the album)

Joshua Klein’s Back To Black review

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