Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black: A Different Perspective

 

00602547462220-cover-zoomToday marks the 10-year anniversary of Amy Winehouse’s sophomore album – without a doubt the one that made the whole world aware of her. 2003’s Frank had already showed a promising voice in the contemporary world of soul and jazz; and even though the album had its fair share of minor hits in the UK, it still relied a bit too much on its influences. The cover songs in particular felt like Amy was not bringing enough of her own personality to the table. All of this was rectified with Back to Black though, where all the elements – her near-total control over the writing, a more organic sound, a better use of her chocolatey voice, perhaps even the new image portrayed on the cover – work together towards creating something totally unique.

The departure paid off as the album managed to win over not only the UK crowd, but also the US one. Back to Black spawned multiple singles that charted and made Winehouse the first British female to win 5 Grammys. Her down-to-earth approach to music was seen as a fresh breath of air in the world of pop artifice, inspiring a whole new generation of artists such as Adele to go down similar routes. And yet, in my opinion, the album still doesn’t receive the praise that I think it so richly deserves. Or rather, in the particular way I feel it deserves it.

Let me explain. When I hear a verse like “I cried for you on the kitchen floor” from You Know I’m No Good – which by the way actually happened to Amy after breaking up with her boyfriend – I don’t just think that she’s different from her contemporary pop stars. What I hear is a highly confessional, deeply sincere bit of her personal life shared for us to resonate. To feel what she was going through, to feel her pain. We’ve all been in the heartbroken situation she describes in Wake Up Alone, trying her best to stay busy during the day so thoughts of him won’t haunt her. Doing mundane activities such as cleaning the house in order to stay away from the bottle. The chest pains, the dreams, and eventually the waking up alone. It’s all an incredibly accurate portrayal of the post-breakup loneliness.

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Even the big hit that is Rehab doesn’t come off as any less personal. Sure, the chorus would become a premise for all those lame jokes, but there’s also lyrics like “There’s nothing you can teach me / That I can’t learn from Mr. Hathaway” ­– referring to the famous soul singer Donny Hathaway and thus placing the power of music above everything. Or the truly heartbreaking “I don’t ever wanna drink again / I just, ooh, just need a friend”, making the whole song sound like something you’d put on at 2AM on a depressing night as opposed to dancing to it at your local club. It’s not just the lyrics that convey this message though – listen to how her voice switches from the quiet resignation of Love Is a Losing Game, to the gloom of Back to Black, or the angry attacks of Me & Mr. Jones and Addicted.

Now I can understand why some would complain about the production sounding too retro, especially in the case of Tears Dry on Their Own where the melodies and arrangements are directly lifted from Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. But for me, Back to Black has always been more about what Amy herself brings to those old sounds, and the heart-on-the-sleeve character of the lyrics nearly pushes the album into the singer-songwriter territory. If Frank was still treading water, then this is her very own Blood on the Tracks, her Blue, or her Sea Change, and 10 years’ worth of new artists and new scenes have not made it any less powerful.

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36 replies

  1. Chocolatey voice…I like that!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well done review! It’s so sad that Amy Winehouse is no longer with us. Back to Black is my favourite album of the 2000s. She was one of the best musicians in recent years.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. A great commentary, Ovidiu, and a wonderful tribute to her legacy.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great writing, fella. I know we’ve discussed Amy and this one before, but I’ll say it again: I’m very fond of this album. A real favourite.

    I think the title track is my favourite. Her delivery is incredible… a real talent and tragic that she never got the chance to live as a true great.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I loved this album already, but now I love it more. Nice post!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This album was just so personal and filled with so much talent. I am still sad that she is no longer with us, what a tragedy for someone so talented.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post. I really liked Amy’s music, her lovely velvety voice and her skill in putting it all over to the listener.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great album and your personal response here does it justice.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. One of those tantalizingly frail and tragic figures from the history of genius, we would all love to have rescued. Billie Holiday, Marylin Monroe, Edith Piaf – the list could go on and on. Strange as it seems to me now, I did not like Amy’s music at first – it was ‘You Know I’m no good’ that brought me round. I had a lot of catching up to do!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have what ever i could find from Amy, while she was alive and continued after her untimely death . her voice was amazing

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I feel like there had always been a silent comparison between Winehouse and Adele. They both have amazing jazzy vocals that gravitate music lovers. I would personally always prefer Amy. She’s the underdog of blues where I feel Adele had commercialized herself a bit. I agree with commenters saying you have a wonderful way with words. Great review.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Has it really been 10 years? Seems like yesterday I saw her video for “You Know I’m No Good” on Vh1. My favorite track remains “Me & Mr. Jones.” I loved her blend of bitterness and soul.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Wow, 10 years! I still love singing to these tunes. Mostly when I’m at the market and I have earbuds in..ha! Sorry other shoppers. Thanks for visiting my music posts at Boomdeeadda. I’ve been far too busy with work to blog for a while but I’m still loving music.

    Like

  14. I so regret not listening to her before her death. I was aware of her, but I didn’t realize how powerful and unique she was until she passed away. Amy was a gem that redefined the image of what music is and the what happens when we allow for music and culture to integrate.

    Liked by 1 person

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