Amy Winehouse – Back To Black

What’s this? You say, a Grammy-award-winning pop album?! Indeed, today I am going to talk about an album by someone of whom nobody would shut up about forever and ever… until now:

It's like Keith Richards turned into a lovely girl and then back again

Despite that pesky ever-presence of British music in our country, apparently every time someone from England takes over the charts for a while, it’s another “British Invasion”. If anything, the only time the British invaded was in the 17th century, and we stayed here.

Really though, I know what the magazines are talking about when they get drunk and forget that there’s a “British Invasion” every other weekend, and that’s the fact that someone has come over here, taken over our torpid pop charts for a few weeks, and brought a fleet of very similar musicians utilizing the exact same style to make sure that they make off with ALL our Grammies (IS there a plural to the Grammy awards?) In the case of Amy Winehouse, that group has included the dismal Duffy and the adequate Adele, both of which were either nominated or won something or other in the past year. Some people make the grave mistake, shortly before dying under mysterious circumstances, of comparing the incomparably superior songstress Sia Furler to this lot, but in fact she is Australian and sings better songs than this, and sings them much, much better. So yeah, that’s an egregious, musically ignorant mistake to make there.

Anyway, about Amy Winehouse: I actually like her, and I like this album. It’s kind of hard not to for most music fans, because she (or the people pulling the strings behind her) has taken the best elements of Motown, infused them with a bit of jazz, and stuck a saucy singer in the forefront who knows how to “work it”, as they say. Her singing is not sublime or anything, I’d say it’s about like that bee-hive haircut she sported for a while, in that her singing is big but falls short of impressive, is reminiscent of a style long gone, and is thus a bit unusual for this day and age, and is disheveled and uneven enough to have kind of a cuteness about it. To simplify, I describe her singing as “adorably off-key”.

It’s not just the singing that has earned this lady her tea and crumpets, oh no. She’s got a thing that dates all the way back to Beethoven and perhaps even farther back, which is that she’s half musician, half character. Her character is that of a disreputable woman of devilish habits who sings about her suffering much the same way as she sings about her habits. She’s a slave to both and there’s no freedom in sight. It’s unfortunate that this “character” is apparently hand-in-hand with the real person, at least unfortunate in a personal sense. Fact is, her disgusting personal life is part of why people are so fascinated with her. Deranged middle-aged men have been scouring the internet every day for a glimpse at Britney Spears’ exposed bosom for an entire decade (to apparently no avail),  but it’s only taken one Grammy win for Mrs. Winehouse to flail around completely topless on a beach without a care. Whenever we typically find out that our favorite celebrated persons are checking into rehab, it’s the topic on every gossip column in every magazine in every Wal*Mart for months, but Amy built her career on her lack of rehabilitation from her crippling disease.

But this blog is not called “Celebrities Du Jour”, so the big question here is, without all this backstory about Amy Winehouse being a diseased, mentally distressed young lady, is her album still worth listening to?

My answer is “sure”. It’s a relaxing album, full of great tones, inventive uses of horns, drums, and bass, and the “hits” of the album, “Rehab”, “You Know That I’m No Good” (in which she rhymes “bitter” with… “bitter”), “Tears Dry On Their Own”, are all so addicting you’d think you just scored a free sample of whatever she’s on. Even the lesser known songs from the album, “Me And Mr. Jones”, and “Back To Black”, are not only clever, but convey some emotions that seem to hit really close to home. Despite whatever problems the girl has, whether real or simply part of the “character”, she sings with an often-misguided optimism that things are going to work out somehow, without the conventions that weigh so many people down. Listening to the album is like lending an ear to a friend as well as being treated to some quality tunes, and that gives the whole thing an interesting and possibly unique quality.

I’d have to say that my favorite song is probably “You Know That I’m No Good”, which is about a girl caught in a vicious cycle of cheating on her boyfriend, feeling bad about it, and then doing it again. The lyrics are among the worst in the album as far as wanting to knock some sense into the lady, but in that way, it achieves the reaction it’s going for. The best part about it is really the arrangement and the instrumentation, which is mostly thanks to Mark Ronson, who apparently produced the thing, and the skillful playing of the legendary Dap-Kings (Sharon Jones’ backup band). Forget all that, however, as all it takes to please me with this song is the double-snare hit. Again, I’m a sucker for good drumming.

So good job to Amy Winehouse for coming out with a very worthwhile album while under the influence of very hard drugs. It’s more than I’ve done as a completely sober person, after all. She deserved to win the Grammy, and I would even venture so far as to say she should have been allowed to come to our country to actually accept it, but those pesky personal problems continue to rear their ugly heads. Even if the woman went from a very attractive almost mediterreanean looking beauty with an adorable hairstyle and disturbing tattos to a creepy emaciated scarecrow-looking chick who is prone to streaking, she seems to be coming back from that, public nudity aside, and I really hope she decides not to kill herself long enough to follow this album up with something that really shows off her true potential.

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