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Amy Winehouse "Back to Black" Album Review

Updated on April 24, 2009

Amy Winehouse

Part One


Will the real Amy Winehouse please stand up?

Is the real Amy Winehouse the one that seems hell-bent on self destruction? The one whose behavior goes from ridiculous  to outrageous  - sometimes all in the same day? The one plastered all over the tabloids, standing outside the courthouse looking like she’d slept outside for the past couple of weeks?

Or is the real Amy Winehouse the one that is almost single-handedly responsible for starting the fire that is burning through the new neo-soul movement in the United Kingdom? The one with the pipes of a modern-day Dusty Springfield and the ears for arrangements of a Stevie Wonder? The one that is capable of captivating audiences on both sides of the pond whenever she high-steps onto the stage in her six-inch heels and ultra-short pink chiffon dress?

The truth is, the real Amy Winehouse probably lies somewhere in between the cartoon character and the amazingly-talented crooner described above.

And that may be as close to finding out the real truth as Ms. Winehouse will ever allow us to get.

The one thing that is for certain, however, is that regardless of what lies in store for Amy Winehouse down the road, she was clicking on all cylinders on her 2006 release Back To Black.

This was the album that turned the world on to Ms. Winehouse and her wonderful voice. The voice that sounds like it has been marinating in a whiskey/five-packs-of-cigarettes-a-day mixture. You know, kind of like distilling the essence of Aretha and running it through the late, great Wendy O. Williams.

This was also the album that turned the world on to just how many problems Ms. Winehouse is haunted with.

This is an album about dependency and addition. It’s an open letter to being hooked on failed relationships, dope, sex and fame.

But what a beautiful letter Back To Black is. It’s one written with loving care, despite the themes woven in between the lush, sweeping arrangements.

Winehouse told us all about her love for all those amazing girl groups of the 1960s, like The Supremes, on Back To Black. But she also clued us in to her love affair with the ska/reggae beats from the UK in the late 1970s and early 80s, like Madness and The Specials.


Part Two


And that makes Back To Black a kind of a soul/punk/R&B/jazz mish-mash. One that is totally enjoyable and thoroughly finger-popping.

Winehouse wrote or co-wrote all of the tracks on her second album, giving the disc an air of an autobiography of sorts.

This is never truer than on the smash hit “Rehab.”

That tune also features one of the killer, name-dropping lines on Back To Black. In response to the idea that Winehouse should spend some time in a place of rest, far from her demons, she fires back with – “there’s nothing you can teach me that I can’t learn from Mr. Hathaway.” It’s easy to imagine Donny Hathaway, up in heaven, smiling at that thought.

In addition, Winehouse also offers up that she “ain’t got the 17 days” that the drying-out process requires.

Real-life served up over a bubbly, funky Motown groove.

That’s what Back To Black is all about.

As much as she obviously adores the Phil Spector-produced stuff she cut her teeth on, Winehouse, along with producer Mark Ronson, work in enough hip-hop influences to keep things fresh and new.

Like the drums on “You Know I’m No Good.” A snappy drum-n-bass groove rolls along while punchy horns bob-and-weave around Winehouse’s cautionary tale about how a relationship with her might end up. Or, will most likely wind up. As in, “no good.”

A missed chance to see rapper Slick Rick in concert is the backdrop of “Me & Mr. Jones.” While Winehouse makes it clear that no one stands between her and her man, a female chorus, straight out of Shrangli-La-ville  doo-wops along.

This is the kind of performance that separates Winehouse from contemporaries like Duffy and Adele.

They’re all extremely talented young neo-soul stars, all blessed with once-in-a-lifetime kind of voices.

But where Duffy and Adele are still coming into their own, it seems that Ms. Winehouse is already there and the drinks are already flowing. So keep the party rolling.

So regardless of public perception of Winehouse – whether she’s viewed as some kind of tortured genius or just a streetwalker headed for the gutter – the fact remains that Back To Black is one powerful, and knowing her circumstances, one moving release.

Especially for those who don’t mind their soul covered with a layer of grime.


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    • illminatus profile image

      illminatus 8 years ago from Chicago, IL

      Thank you Dink! I don't think people take the time to actually listen to her music

    • Dink96 profile image

      Dink96 8 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

      I love it when some musical bonehead pronounces Amy Winehouse a "loser drug addict" or some other self-righteous pontification in my presence. I simply tell them I consider her one of the greatest singers of our time who happens to have a very serious disease and I hope and pray that she gets help before it's too late. I think "Back to Black" is pure genius, artfully arranged and a brilliant production. Sort of like this here blog, illuminatus!