Music Matters
A Place for Music Fans!

Fade to Black

  • Jul 24, 2011
We attach some very negative connotations to the term "pop music." Its gotten to the point where a lot of cultural critics (a breed that ironically takes pride in not knowing anything at all about pop culture) avoid that section of the local music mart that says "pop." Honestly, it's difficult to blame them because the most popular music year in and year out is the stuff that most frequently gets remembered as cute novelties while most of the acclaimed stuff is left to rot until a couple of decades later, when the people go back, listen to the old records, and declare a particular era of music to be the arena era or the punk era or whatnot.

Anyway. It's easy to forget that a lot of musical groundbreakers were novelty pop acts themselves. The Beatles were written off by older folks at first. Prince is unquestionably pop. Freaking Michael Jackson was called the King of Pop! Too many N' Syncs and Britney Spears have left us jaded, so it can be hard to perk up whenever someone who sounds like the real deal does come along.

Amy Winehouse was real. An important matter in deciding whether or not an act is real is if they write their own songs, and Winehouse wrote all ten of the songs on Back to Black. She only had a helping hand in writing one of the songs, "Tears Dry on Their Own." Winehouse's voice is a bit of a throwback to a great jazz age singer, and it's tough to not imagine her belting out like Etta James. Her music is an eclectic form fusion of blues, jazz, and soul, but since that's a bit of a mouthful to place on record store labels, we usually just condense it down to a single term: Pop.

Back to Black (not to be confused with Back IN Black, the legendary rock album from AC/DC) was released in 2006. It was her second and ultimately last album. It's a tragic waste too, because Winehouse shows such promise in her "here I am" statement.

Back to Black is not a series of love letters and Dear Johns. There is a very deep vein of despair flowing through the content which is apparent right from the very beginning, with her signature song "Rehab." Yes, "Rehab."
'They tried to make me go to rehab
I said no, no, no'
How's that for a sunny, radio-friendly pop tune?

That opening is, in every respect, a taste of exactly what to expect from Back to Black. There's a lot of regret and sorrow on this album. "Just Friends" is about her becoming friends with benefits with a man who she really wants to keep in the friend zone. "Love is a Losing Game" is a rather horrific opposing argument to the phrase about how it's better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. "He Can Only Hold Her" is about a heartbroken woman who finds solace in the arms of the first man who comes along. The title track actually seems to be about a woman who turns to drugs after getting dumped!

It's a bit scary to think that Winehouse was actually just writing what she knew.

"Tears Dry on Their Own" has a very basic sound sampling of Carol King's "It's too Late." But most of Back to Black is its own album, and the production uses a lot of elements liberally taken from jazz and rhythm and blues from the 50's or 60's. A lot of the music can be deceptively uplifting, but then you also get a lot of lyrics like this from "You Know I'm No Good:"
'Upstairs in bed with my ex boy
He's in a place but I can't get joy'

Or this from "Me and Mr. Jones:"
'What kind of f***ery are we?
Nowadays you don't mean dick to me
I might let you make it up to me
Who's playing Saturday?'
"Me and Mr. Jones" may be one of the darkest songs on the album, full of some of the angriest lyrics. Winehouse spends much of the song telling off someone who, in her words, got between her and her man.

Of course some of the songs on Back to Black move at a faster pace than some of the others, and Winehouse is at her vocal best on the slower, more bluesy tunes. She has a bit more of a relaxed pace to let her draw out her feelings a bit more, and the result is a kind of beautiful howling. Winehouse has a fantastic vocal range, and has a rare talent which allows her to keep pace with any song, no matter what she was trying to do with it. Although Winehouse was only 27 when she died on July 23, she had the vocal experience which sounded far beyond her years. She could be soulful and reflective and angry at the same time, and it all came naturally to her.

Maybe that could be expected, given her life story. But the kind of lyrics Winehouse was writing could only have come from personal experience, which made her fate seemingly unavoidable. What we knew of her personal life and what (perhaps inevitably) came of her lends a dark new meaning to the lyrics in the "Back to Black," in which she sings of returning to black and dying a hundred times.

What did you think of this review?

Fun to Read
Post a Comment
July 24, 2011
27....that magical age when talented singers/musicians end up killing themselves with overdoses. Yes, the investigation is still under way but, isn't that what they said about Jim Morrison? Like all her other deathmates, she died too young and perhaps, reached her peak too soon. She had an amazing style that the pop music scene needed- she made it possible for pop to be more inventive than it had in the N Sync and Britney era of slutty teenage girls and boy bands. Great review on an amazing voice and talent!
July 25, 2011
27. Morrison, Cobain, Hendrix, Joplin... What is it about that age?
July 26, 2011
I know! Something strange about that number...I wonder if that's when they realize their youth is soon to be in the past or maybe they feel like they peaked and there was nowhere else to go but down?
More Back To Black a CD from Amy Wi... reviews
review by . April 29, 2009
I had been seeing some of the videos of an fairly beautiful woman with a lot of tatoos and the catchy voice so I decided to take a chance on this CD. I basically bought it blindly and have no regrets. Amy has an amazing voice and much better song array than Nora Jones who she seems to sound like. Most of the songs seem to borrow riffs from 60's Motown classics and inject new words and new life to. I was thinking that Me & Mr. Jones would be a remake of the Billy Paul classic but it is a totally …
About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston ()
Ranked #13
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
Consider the Source

Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.

Your ratings:
rate more to improve this
About this topic
© 2014, LLC All Rights Reserved - Relevant reviews by real people.
Music Matters is part of the Network - Get this on your site
This is you!
Ranked #
Last login
Member since