Back To Black
Island Records, 2006
REVIEW BY: Sarah Curristan
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/30/2008
Forget for a minute that she’s clocked up a considerable amount of time at the British courts or that she’s probably on par with Paris Hilton as the queen of tabloid rags. Forget that her blood at this stage is likely to consist solely of cocaine; Amy Winehouse exudes talent.
A string of stints in rehab might lead people to believe that Winehouse will always be a celebrity first and foremost rather than an artist. Her trademark appearance comprising of a backcombed extreme beehive, eyeliner that looks like it was applied by finger-painting and pin-up girl tattoos doesn’t exactly herald such a soulful contralto voice, but don’t let this put you off.
After the success of her debut album Frank in 2003, Amy Winehouse’s follow-up Back To Black managed to cement her position as a versatile and revolutionary British vocalist. Her second album carries influence from genres across the board including soul, jazz, ska, R&B and rock as well as the obvious nods to Motown and ‘60s girl groups. Produced by Mark Ronson, this album substantiates Winehouse’s capabilities as a musician and a songwriter, proving that, despite all the surrounding eye-rolling controversies, she is someone worth talking about.
Leaving behind the lighthearted approach and R&B sound that was crystallized on Frank with songs such as “Fuck Me Pumps” and “You Should Be Stronger Than Me,” the tone of Back To Black, as the title suggests, is far more somber and deals with the rock and roll trifecta of love, drugs, and dead-end relationships.
The album’s opening track, the now infamous “Rehab,” still manages to survive and maintain as a great song despite a torturous amount of radio play. Darkly humorous, “Rehab” sets the tone for the rest of the album; it contrasts an upbeat brass sound alongside Winehouse’s bittersweet lyrics, the initial sarcastic refusal “There's nothing you can teach me / That I can't learn from Mr. Hathaway” eventually bending to the frail “He said 'I just think you're depressed’/ ‘This me, yeah baby, and the rest.’” Coupled with a voice echoing Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald (particularly on Back To Black’s title track) and lyrics that drip with soul, it’s easy to forget that Amy Winehouse was only twenty-two at the time of recording her second album.“Tears Dry On Their Own,” which features a sample of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s track “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” is a perfect fit and probably the peak of the album. The sultry “You Know I’m No Good” and the affecting title track come a close second. “Some Unholy War” is the only track on Back To Black that seems to miss the mark but can be skipped over shamelessly to leave you with an all-around fantastic album.