Retro Review: Amy Winehouse revolutionized jazz with ‘Back to Black’ album

By CELESTE VILLARREAL

When an album is inspired by heartbreak and battling an addiction, what is the outcome? Amy Winehouse’s album”Back to Black” sold an estimated 50 million records and is one of the best selling records in music history. 

Winehouse had her listeners in a chokehold when she released her #1 album, “Back to Black” on Oct. 27, 2006. Amy Winehouse is a jazz singer that combines her bluesy voice with an upbeat pop R&B sound. 

This album sheds light on the challenging struggles Winehouse faced early on in her career. Unfortunately, this album would later act as a foreshadow for her tragic fate.

The album starts with her #1 hit, Rehab and songs about heartbreak and perseverance follow after.

Winehouse released the most revolutionary and creative piece of art during her time. Winehouse speaks on all things that make us human, happiness, appreciation, empathy, anger and sorrow. All the emotions embedded into our lives as they go on are represented in these 11 songs. 

This album was much more modern than Winehouse’s previous releases. When Winehouse released her first album, “Frank” (an album named after her ex boyfriend) it was much jazzier and had more of a coffee house sound. “Frank” was an amazing album, but not as diverse as “Back to Black.”

This album collected a 4.9 star rating, according to google reviews. The Guardian even wrote an article calling the album the best of the 21st century.  There were lots of words in reviews used to describe the album including “incredible,” “amazing,” and “perfect.” 

Who could deny that Amy is a one of a kind artist? “Back to Black” collected 18.9 million streams and held the highest position on the charts for a whopping seven weeks. Winehouse went on to win five awards for this album.  We can all appreciate the genius it took to create such a masterpiece.

There was not much negative said about this album. Although the review done by Pitchfork.com was rather back handed, it wasn’t very critical on the quality of the album. This review was much more about how Winehouse chose to live her private life.

The review stated, ”She’ll be scheduled to perform, but there’s no guarantee what she’ll do, or even if she’ll make it through the show. And she’ll sing about her problems…” but not care what you think about them.

This really shows that their opinions were much more personal and less about the music.

Rehab

Rehab touches on the struggle and unwillingness to get professional help. When Winehouse had written this song she was battling with her label, arguing that she didn’t need professional help for her alcoholism and drug addiction. This song is really a cry for help. Being in denial didn’t shield Winehouse from the consequences of her actions. 

“They tried to make me go to Rehab But I said no, no, no

Yes I’ve been black, but when I come back

You’ll know, know, know l ain’t got the time

And if my daddy thinks I’m fine

They tried to make me go to Rehab But I won’t go, go, go

I don’t ever want to drink again I just, ooh, I just need a friend I’m not gonna spend ten weeks And have everyone think I’m on the mend

And it’s not just my pride

It’s just ’til these tears have dried”

You Know I’m No Good

Self depreciation and how critical Winehouse is of her own actions is clear as day in this song, almost giving reasons as to why her boyfriend should just stay away. She is her own worst enemy and this is her warning label. She makes it clear that self sabotage is one of many escapes. 

“There’ll be none of him no more”

I cried for you on the kitchen floor

I cheated myself

Like I knew I would

I told you I was trouble

You know that I’m no good”-

“Who truly stuck the knife in first

I cheated myself

Like I knew I would

Itold you I was trouble

You know that I’m no good

I cheated myself

Like I knew I would

I told you I was troubled

Yeah, you know that I’m no good”

Me & Mr. Jones

Winehouse has an almost intoxicating voice in this song. Slurred and strong, she effortlessly sings this anthem without holding back. This song is about the bond between her and the rapper Nas. They were both cheating on their partners at the time and the lyrics and beat add a sleazy jazz sound onto the justification of their infidelity. Winehouse spins the the song ‘Me and Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul, an oldies classic which is just produced beautifully.  Winehouse’s genius really peaks in this song, taking a jazz classic and making it a modern day classic. Using real instruments and not artificial saxophones, pianos, and other jazz instruments isolated her from all of the newer artists and allowed her to create her own genre.

“Nobody stands in between me and my man

It’s me and Mr. Jones (me and Mr.

Jones)What kind of fuckery is this?”-

“You made me miss the Slick Rick gig (oh, Slick Rick)

And thought that I didn’t love you when I did (when I did)

Can’t believe you played me out like that

No, you ain’t worth guest list

Plus one of all them girls you kiss (all them girls)

You can’t keep lying to yourself like this (to yourself)”-

 “I still wonder ’bout the things you do

Mr Destiny, nine and 14

Nobody stands in between me and my man

‘Cause it’s me and Mr. Jones

Mr. Jones (me and Mr. Jones)

Me and oh”

Just Friends

As complicated as Winehouse’s life was, adding relationships to the mix was a way of coping for her. This upbeat and doowop sound is followed by feelings of confliction. She doesn’t want or need a relationship at the moment but she wants companionship. She can feel the distraction of this person wearing off. She mentions how bad her addiction is getting and their schedules keeping them apart as a reason to just keep it friendly rather than hurting themselves. She is emotionally detached and her feelings for this person are purely passionate. We can only assume that the person she is talking about is in a relationship because as she states, “And no, I’m not ashamed, but the guilt will kill you If she don’t first, I’ll never love you like her.”

When will we get the time to be just friends?

It’s never safe for us, not even in the evening

‘Cause I’ve been drinking

Not in the morning where your shit works

It’s always dangerous when everybody’s sleeping

And I’ve been thinking

Can we be alone?

Can we be alone?

When will we get the time to be just friends?

When will we get the time to be just friends?

And no, I’m not ashamed, but the guilt will kill you If she don’t first

I’ll never love you like her

Though we need to find the time To just do this shit together

Back To Black

Seperating from Blake Fielder Civil was one of Amy’s most agonizing eras. Publicly recognizing her husband’s infidelity and how devoted she was to him was not only brave but incredibly raw. In the Back to Black music video Amy is burying someone representing that Blake is in fact dead to her. After all of the devastation and gut wrenching pain she felt he had moved onto someone else and she was angry. This is a revenge song, shouting from the rooftops that he is dead to her.

”We only said goodbye with words, I died a hundred times,

You go back to her And I go back to I go back to us”

“Me and my head high ,

And my tears dry, 

Get on without my guy,

You went back to what you knew, 

So far removed, 

From all that we went through And I tread a troubled track, 

My odds are stacked,

I’ll go back to black.”

Love is Losing Game

This song highlights the rise and fall of Amy’s romance to Blake Fielder Civil. The melancholy song is a roller coaster of emotions represented throughout the whole album. Amy shows us her admiration and feelings of betrayal for her ex husband. The feelings of confusion and devastation are not discovered but pronounced in this song. 

“For you, I was a flame Love is a losing game,

 Five story fire as you came

 Love is a losing game 

One I wished I never played 

Oh, what a mess we made 

And now, the final frame

 Love is a losing game” 

“Played out by the band, 

Love is a losing hand, 

More than I could stand, 

Love is a losing hand, 

Self-professed, profound

‘Til the chips were down, 

Know you’re a gambling man, Love is a losing hand, 

Though I battle blind, Love is a fate resigned, 

Memories mar my mind, 

Love is a fate resigned, 

Over futile odds, 

And laughed at by the gods 

And now, the final frame Love is a losing game”

Tears Dry On Their Own

This song creates a sense of triumph, regret and reflection. Amy goes over how she went wrong trusting and getting attached to someone so unstable and abusive. Standing up on her own with a sense of relief when she discovers she doesn’t need him says a lot about her character. Her creativity shines throughout the album  when she goes back and forth with herself throughout these songs.. Deciding she doesn’t need him and realizing her worth back to reliving the past and craving what she once had with her husband. 

“My tears dry on their own,

 I don’t understand ,Why do I stress the man?

When there’s so many bigger things at hand, 

We coulda never had it all, 

We had to hit a wall, 

So this is inevitable withdrawal,

 Even if I stop wanting you, 

A perspective pushes through, 

 I’ll be some next man’s other woman Soon, 

I cannot play myself again, I should just be my own best friend.”- 

 “All l can ever be to you, 

Is a darkness that we know, 

And this regret I got accustomed to, 

Once it was so right, When we were at our high”

Wake Up Alone

The emotional dependency Amy has with her husband is no secret, especially in this song. She only feels okay during the day when she’s distracted, almost like the night brings about all of the emotions she’s been avoiding throughout the day and hits her like a wave being held back. He even haunts her while she’s sleeping and she expresses the sorrow she feels after waking up to reality and discovering his absence day after day. 

“It’s okay in the day, I’m staying busy 

Tied up enough so I don’t have to wonder where is he”- 

“Just disappears soon as the sun sets,

 This face in my dreams seizes my guts, 

He floods me with dread, Soaked in soul,

 he swims in my eyes by the bed”

Some Unholy War- This song goes on about the loyalty Amy feels towards her husband. She goes on to say that she refuses to let him go and she will be by his side through war. This says a lot about where her priorities lie and who she’s willing to put first, herself or her husband?

“If my man was fighting some unholy, War, 

I would be behind him, 

Straight, shook up beside him With strength he didn’t know, 

 It’s you I’m fighting for, He can’t lose with me in tow”

He Can Only Hold Her- Lingering feelings are no secret in this song. Amy touches on the never ending feelings she has for her ex, Blake. In a way she is defending the emotional infidelity she is commiting by being in love with her ex while being in an entirely new relationship. She still loves her ex no matter who she pursues.

“Even if she’s content in his warmth

She is played with urgency

Searching kisses, the man she misses

The man that he longs to be Now how can he have her heart

When it got stole?

So he tries to pacify her

‘Cause what’s inside her never dies

So he tries to pacify her

For what’s inside her, it never dies”

Addicted- Amy makes it very clear that she doesn’t see pettiness as a taboo topic . When something needs to be said she has no issue saying it. This song is about Amy’s best friend’s boyfriend pinching her supply. Taking what isn’t his and irritating Amy along the way. This song acts as a lighthearted joke to end a very depressing and emotional string of songs. 

“Once is enough, To make me attack, 

So bring me a bag and your man can come back. 

I’ll check him at the door make sure he got green, 

I’m tighter than airport security teams”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s