Amy Winehouse
Back to Black



by Dave de Sylvia EMERITUS
January 15th, 2007 | 332 replies

Release Date: 2006 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Drunk Jewish girl knocks out more than just photographers with her stunning sophomore album.

What are the chances of two artists independently sampling the same relatively obscure ‘60s pop song at almost exactly the same time? They gotta be short, right?

Still, it happens. In 2001, British electronic acts I Monster and The Beta Band each recorded tracks with interpolations of ‘Daydream’ by the Belgian hippy group The Wallace Connection within weeks of each other. The vocalists used sounded eerily similar and, even stranger, the bands each attempted the issue their tracks as singles within weeks of each other. The melody itself was lifted from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake suite and the sample had been introduced to Britain by Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, and the I Monster track, entitled ‘Daydream in Blue’ has since been itself sampled on Lupe Fiasco’s single ‘Daydreamin’.’ This, plus the likelihood that the two bands probably shopped in the same record stores anyway, this one can be chalked up to little more than coincidence.

But how do you explain this one? The suave and sleazy face of Chicago soul John Legend and brash, inner-city Londoner Amy Winehouse each sample an almost-forgotten Stax take-off and release the tracks within a week of each other on opposing sides of the globe- that’s a little less likely. The sample in question comes from The Icemen’s ‘(My Girl) She’s a Fox,’ a throwaway ballad that’d be forgotten were it not for an early session spot by a very young Jimi Hendrix and is only really attainable on bargain-bin Hendrix compilations.

Legend’s ‘Slow Dance’ samples the guitar track and vocal chant, another example of the producer’s impeccable ear for a tune, while ‘He Can Only Hold Her’ from Winehouse’s Back To Black crafts an entirely different tune with just the vocal track. Unlike Legend’s track, for Ms. Winehouse the sample serves as mere accompaniment, a sweet counterpoint to Britain’s latest tabloid diva’s harsh, slurred vocal performance. As if further proof was needed, Amy Winehouse is testament to the fact that almost every great female rhythm & blues singer is either a tough, southern black woman or a skinny white girl from London.

Amy’s recent resurgence may smack of a media campaign- the unresolved addictions, punching fans, the punk in drublicness, her fluctuating weight and rumours of bulimia make her the ideal target for the media to alternately laud and vilify- but, whether fact or fiction, Back To Black is more than capable of standing on its own feet (which is more than can be said for its author.) Trading in the laid-back jazz of her award-winning debut Frank for up-tempo urban soul and traces of hip-hop, and leaving contemporaries Joss Stone and Katie Melua in the dust, Winehouse teamed up with New York DJ Mark Ronson (Lily Allen, Rhymefest) and Frank producer Salaam Remi (Nas, Ms. Dynamite).

In Ronson, she seems to have found a- excuse the pun- soul-mate. The six Ronson-produced tracks are punchy and upbeat to match the blunt, aggressive lyrics Winehouse composes in the vein of Lily Allen and Ms. Dynamite, and the arrangements are nothing short of superb. There can be few left on the right side of the Atlantic who haven’t heard the massive single ‘Rehab,’ Amy’s wild assertion that she’d rather deny her problems and listen to Ray Charles records than set her ship straight, while follow-up single ‘You Know I’m No Good’ is a delightfully self-depricating ballad that falls somewhere between A Tribe Called Quest and Jeff Buckley with reference paid to the world’s greatest beer (Stella!)

The title track is the most seamless of all the tracks, in that it encapsulates all of the different influences fused on the album in one four-minute burst. The harmonised backing vocals recall Spector’s Ronettes, the multiple tempo changes bring to mind Stax and Muscle Shoals, while the disconcerting piano-led pulse and simple but affecting lyrics call to mind American and UK hip hop respectively, as a broken-hearted Amy tells her former beau “you love blow and I love puff,” and adds, “[he] kept his dick wet.” Charming.

Remi’s half, while not quite as perfect, comes close. Less horn-stabbing takes place in deference to Nas-like ivory-tickling on the hilarious ‘Me & Mr. Jones’ (named for Nasir himself) which opens with the disarming question: “what kind of fuckery is this? You made me miss the Slick Rick gig.” The aforementioned is a highlight, as is the half-rapped tempo-shifting ‘Tears Dry on Their Own,’ while ‘Just Friends’ is almost Beatles-esque with a hint of two-tone thrown in.

I’m always wary of proclaiming any album the “best of” anything, especially when it concerns a genre I have little more than a passing interest in, but Back To Black is by far the best popular soul album I’ve heard this year, and a welcome addition to a collection which houses a number of players punching dangerously below their weight in John Legend, India.Arie and Anthony Hamilton. That she’s an actual living, breathing character and she’s all over my tv and newspaper is an added bonus at the moment- let’s hope she plays this one sensibly and doesn’t end up on Big Brother like that ponce from Towers of London.

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Comments:Add a Comment 
The Jungler
January 16th 2007


Album Rating: 3.5

Nice review, drunk jewish girls ftw

I've never heard of this though, is it popular in the UK?

January 16th 2007


I recognize her from You Know I'm no Good, which is also on the new Ghostface album. sexy work as usual.

January 16th 2007


Drunk jewish girls are sexy.

January 17th 2007


The songs in the links are kinda funky. Nice review. This sounds like something that I might be able to dig on from time to time.

February 3rd 2007


Album Rating: 4.0

Amy is pure pleasure for me. Not only are we the same age but we go through life in a same manner (if her bio at wiki is true).

I love all the songs on the album especially "Rehab", "You Know I'm No Good" and "Back To Black", but my favorite is a non album track that appears on the "Rehab" CD2 its called "Do Me Good"! This song is so fine to me, I feel as if I am on a cloud ride when I listen to it.

Check it out people! You'll like it!

Amy I think of you in my sleep...This Message Edited On 02.03.07

February 10th 2007


Album Rating: 4.0

This album is great so far. She sounds like a big black woman in the first song. That's all I've heard so far.

This is way too short This Message Edited On 02.10.07

February 16th 2007


Album Rating: 3.5

35 minutes is a good length.

This is awesome, especially 'You Know I'm No Good' and to a slightly lesser but still awesome degree also the title track.

February 17th 2007


Album Rating: 4.0

What kind of fuckery is this? You made me miss the Slick Rick gig!

March 13th 2007


Album Rating: 3.0

Yeah, don't know if she's reached the land down under yet, I certainly haven't heard of her. Your review was well written, by the way. Although I did have to skim the opening paragraphs 'cause they kinda went on about stuff I wasn't really getting or caring about. But well and truly worthy of a vote nonetheless.

I don't know if it was intentional, but I highly rate the NOFX reference.

Just out of interest, who are the top-ranked reviewers on the site nowadays?This Message Edited On 03.12.07

March 13th 2007


Album Rating: 4.0

Mikesn and Dethrasher are in the top 5 as well I believe. I'm 33rd

April 17th 2007


This abum is less jazzy than her last one, i prefer her last one.

April 18th 2007


Album Rating: 4.0

I love this album. I'm really annoyed that most modern bands/singers/artists can get away with releasing only 11/12 tracks, though. That's my only real complaint, besides maybe not enough upbeat songs.

May 2nd 2007


My mom likes this. So do I. I'll need a few more car rides with it on to give a rating, though.
She looks different than I figured from her voice.

June 13th 2007


Album Rating: 3.0

Jesus this sounds nothing like I expected. Dusty Springfield!

The Jungler
June 19th 2007


Album Rating: 3.5

Best song, other than the singles, is the title track. Album is good, overall a bit better than I expected.

January 31st 2008


Album Rating: 4.0

DB:Personally.. She scares me. her video wound come on at night and just scare me okay....

Russ: Yes she is a bit scary (not as much as DB made her to be), and yes she has a slight drug problem but she IS extremely talented. There are a few boring tracks on here, but overall i like it. Back to Black is actually one of my favorite songs of all time

February 7th 2008


Album Rating: 3.0

Actually the story of the girl is much more interesting than the music she's making (where have I heard that sound before)

She's young, skinny, she's famous in Europe, she married her dealer; she has a serious alcohol and drug problem. Her dealer (sorry husband) gets arrested for I-don't-care-what and goes to jail; Amy goes to Rehab; She has a beautiful voice, which is not always hearable; out of Rehab she does the major European festivals, in Belgium she was to druk on stage to impress anyone with her voice. She goes to the court to support her dealer, repeatedly stating: "I will always love you".

"Love conquers all" is my bet to be the successor of the multi-mega-hit "Rehab"

February 20th 2008


Album Rating: 4.0

one of the better releases of 2007 for sure, and i totally agree with your best pop soul release idea. nice review

May 15th 2008


Album Rating: 4.0

Say what you like about Winehouse's narcotic and alcohol-related antics, this album is a pure joy. I'm glad it's really popular here, makes a change from the masses consuming tripe like usual. Stay alive Amy, keep taking the number ones off crappy dance bands.

Has her music caught on in America? Or just her behaviour?

May 15th 2008


Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

More the latter, really.

I still love this record.

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