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One of the best albums of the 21st century
It is rare to find an artist who can blend genres and expand horizons. It is rare to find an artist who can take a formula that inspired many people for years and somehow make it sound new again. It is, however, even more rare to find an artist that does both of those things extremely well. Amy Winehouse was one of those artists. From the hip-hop inspired jazz of her first album (Frank) to the soul infused album that hearkened to that classic Motown style that was her second album (Back to Black).
Amy Winehouse not only brought back soul in this 2006 breakout album, she also catalyzed another British Invasion. With her success in America that came from the utterly catchy (and sadly ironic) song “Rehab,” other British singers were able to find success on the other side of the pond (Adele, Duffy, Sam Smith).
“Rehab,” with its catchy hook and “no no no” phrase, is perhaps one of Winehouse’s signature song. From the production, the attitude, and the lyrics (with nods to Donny Hathaway and Ray Charles), it demands attention from every ear that listens. Whether the song is a rebellious anthem or a cry for help, “Rehab” kicks off the album in an energetic start.
Winehouse takes the energetic momentum that “Rehab” created, and moves it across the next few songs. “You Know I’m No Good,” a song about infidelity and cheating oneself in the process, has this hip hop inspired R/B beat that almost begs to have a rap verse mixed with it (just ask Ghostface Killah). Amy’s contralto vocals tells her side of the story of her affairs. A classic Winehouse song to say the least. “Me and Mr. Jones” is a shout-out to Nas (yes, you read that right. The rapper) that screams soul and passion. Throughout the song, Amy professes her admiration to Nas. “Just Friends” starts with a dreamy beat and, when mixed with Winehouse’s voice, gives a classic 60s vibe.
And the energetic momentum from “Rehab” stops there as Amy starts perhaps the best song of the album. “Back to Black” has a certain rhythm that could have easily be done by the Supremes or the Crystals with the chorus. Of course all of Amy’s songs are autobiographical. After all, she writes all of the songs on the album. However, “Back to Black” is the most believable and one of the most memorable. If there is one song that could explain why Amy Winehouse got so hooked on drugs and alcohol, look no further. This song, like most of the songs on this record, is about a breakup, but not just any breakup. The sort of breakup that tears your heart until the pieces can’t be counted anymore while the other person just moves on easily. Simply put, Amy’s ex-boyfriend went back to his other girlfriend and Amy went back into the depths of her depression, hense the title “Back to Black.”
Moving on from one of Winehouse’s finest songs comes, well, another one of Winehouse’s finest songs. “Love is a Losing Game” will hopefully be the song that people will cover decades into the future. From the genius lyrics, to the simple guitar and piano, and to Amy’s voice, this song is perhaps one of the more gut-wrenching songs of this century.
“Tears Dry on Their Own” samples the beat from “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell and creates a new story out of it. With Gaye’s song being about fighting for love, Winehouse’s song is about moving on from love. If you can move past the similar beats of the two songs, this song will be one of your favorite ones.
“Wake Up Alone.” Well, what can I say? Amy Winehouse records her most haunting vocals on this track over a piano beat that repeats triplets similar to an Otis Redding song, but, like all the other songs on this record, it never directly copies a class or even sound familiar. It’s just nothing sticks out from the previous songs. It’s slow but doesn’t have the catchiness of “Back to Black” nor the genius lyrics of “Love is a Losing Game.
“Some Unholy War” stops the string of slow songs and gives a mid-tempo sound about Amy sticking by her boyfriend throughout all the addiction and heartache. For me, just like “Wake Up Alone,” it never sticks with me. That is not a bad thing at all. It’s certainly not filler. It’s fits in if you’re listening to the album from start to finish, but the song can’t stand on its own. Still, a somewhat unmemorable Amy Winehouse song is better than most of the songs charting on iTunes right now, if not all of them.
“He Can Only Hold Her” puts the first-person pronouns down for a breather and brings out third-person pronouns. From the cheerful sounds of the trumpets to Amy’s voice, this song has always stuck with me. Perhaps it’s me wanting to think that Winehouse was a little big happier after recording this. Or maybe I’m bringing too much thought into this. Yeah, it’s the latter.
Now if you had this album in the United States before like me, this song was oddly excluded from the album. Sure, it is about Amy’s love for green (and we aren’t talking about money here), but it makes sense putting this song here. She starts off telling us she won’t go to rehab for her addictions, then practically tells us the situations that started her addictions, and then this song just brings to the album conclusion. Amy proves she didn’t just write sad songs. She also wrote songs with a touch of humor in them.
It’s a shame that one of the greatest talents of this generation died so quickly. Sure, she does leave the world some songs, but listening to this album makes us wonder if what would happen if her story was given a better ending. This album is one of the greatest of the last decade from of the greatest artist of the last decade. May Amy Winehouse rest in peace.Share