This year marks the tenth anniversary of Amy Winehouse’s landmark sophomore album, “Back to Black.” On the album, Winehouse’s soulful vocals were backed by instrumentation influenced by Motown and 60’s pop, a departure from the jazzier sound of her debut, “Frank.” Heavily praised by critics, the album helped launch Winehouse to stardom, particularly in her native U.K. but internationally as well. However, this stardom seemed to hurt Winehouse much more than it helped. Winehouse’s well-publicized battle with drug addiction turned the singer into tabloid cannon-fodder, with some of the same publications that initially showered her with praise joining in on the coverage. Unfortunately, Winehouse succumbed to that lifestyle nearly five years after the release of “Back to Black.” Similar to the cases of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, the media and the public reverted back to their admiration of Winehouse, with “Back to Black” hitting the top spot on the British charts for the next two weeks and eventually becoming the nation’s second-highest-selling of the 21st Century. With a decade having passed since the album’s release, let’s take a second look at the modern-day classic.
The album begins with “Rehab,” arguably Winehouse’s signature song. The sleazy delivery matches the subject matter wonderfully and really sets the tone for the whole album. Admittedly, it can be hard to hear lyrics such as, “I’m gonna lose my baby, so I always keep a bottle near,” in hindsight, but Winehouse comes across as more honest than many others who tried to portray an edgy sense of decadence in pop music. Up next is another one of her most popular tracks, “You Know I’m No Good,” which may be the best song on the album. Winehouse portrays a cheater getting caught backed by the excellent instrumentation produced by Mark Ronson, of “Uptown Funk!” fame.
The title track is a beautiful song, with enough bluesy darkness to fit its name well. Winehouse’s vocal delivery balances sadness and sensuality with the greatest of ease. “Love is a Losing Game” shows traces of her former jazz influences mixed in with a large amount of R&B and Winehouse’s fantastic vocal, making it one of my personal favorite songs from the album. Another track, “Some Unholy War” is an interesting number. On its surface, it’s a simply a well-written love song, with Winehouse promising to “be behind” her man if he were to be fighting the titular war. However, one cannot forget the state of the world at that time. With the Iraqi conflict rapidly losing public support, it’s possible that it could have shades of commentary on the event.
After listening to “Back to Black,” it’s easy to see why the record received such great recognition. With the pop music landscape of 2006 being full of dance-pop and other more superficial styles, “Back to Black” was a breath of fresh air. Retro before retro was cool, Winehouse’s success led to record companies signing more females who weren’t afraid to dig a little deeper than someone like the Pussycat Dolls. One of these was Adele, whose album “21” is the only one to pass “Back to Black” on the 21st Century British Album Chart.