Back to Black Label: Universal Republic
It’s impressive enough that British songstress Amy Winehouse is only 23. But take out pen and paper, and write down the name of one other female singer/songwriter who can marry the sounds of ‘50s and ‘60s pop (think Diana Ross or Aretha Franklin) with smoky bar blues (think Tom Waits) – and even modern soulful R&B (think Macy Gray) – with results as stunning as Winehouse’s latest, Back to Black. Okay, take a listen to Winehouse and then get back to me. But your page will be blank.
What’s so compelling about Winehouse is her lyrical honesty. Contemplating rehab, drinking Tanqueray, and smoking weed are all topics she doesn’t dance around, and it’s downright refreshing. What is more literate than “They tried to make me go to rehab / I said ‘no no no’”? Not much, and the opening track, “Rehab,” shows off those bold lyrics along with an impressive array of horns. But she also can turn a lyric effortlessly, as she does in “You Know I’m No Good”: “I cheated myself / Like I knew I would / I told you I was trouble / You know I’m no good.” Does that paint a picture of a bad girl or what?
The haunting title track is, um, haunting, and it’s damn good, but it isn’t even in the same league as the painfully sad “Love Is a Losing Game” or the triumphant track that follows it, “Tears Dry on Their Own.” The latter not only reveals more of Winehouse’s brutal honesty, it’s also the best example of her knack for pulling pop hooks out of the air and putting them down on tape. Then, in “Addicted,” Amy sings of an ex-lover committing a double foul – dumping her AND smoking all her weed. Sheesh, that’s pretty low.
If Amy Winehouse lives her life as literally as her songs suggest (and she does), she just may wind up in rehab at some point. But the beauty of that is, she’ll keep making some of the coolest music on the pop charts. This is good music for a movie soundtrack, but it’s even better music for the soundtrack of your own life.