Black to black – Amy Winehouse
Amy. Oh, Amy.
Her anniversary is always bittersweet. It’s a time the world-at-large seems to revel in and truly acknowledge all of her talents, just as she deserves. Yet, like other artists remembered after their time, it’s with more respect and kindness from the masses (and media) than she was afforded while she was alive. It’s like Drake said – “better late than never … but never late is better”. I agree with him, as usual.
It’s especially hard to look at and listen to her music the same after seeing the brilliant and almost-impossibly-tragic-but-unfortunately-true documentary (Amy) a couple of years ago. It broke me. I sobbed so loudly in the cinema that friends came to the rescue with tissues as soon as the credits rolled. It did take them a minute though, because they were sitting about five rows in front … and a whole section to the right. Is there a name for projectile sobbing?
Back to Black the album has a new subtext of darkness since that film, overshadowing the trademark almost-tongue-in-cheek lyrics Amy often delivered her stories through.
When Back to Black first came out, we pored over the lyrics and picked up new favourite soundbites with every listen. ‘What kind of fuckery is this, you made me miss the Slick Rick gig’ and ‘He kept his dick wet, with his same old safe bet’ are still highlights for me. It was a remarkable album for its honesty, and the vivid visuals the masterful lyrics would conjure. On You Know I’m No Good, I still feel like an innocent bystander. There were of course the more genuinely tender moments too, which seem to be more-often-than-not in hindsight.
Amy’s first album, Frank, had more of a traditional jazz foundation. Talking about Back to Black she said “Jazz is quite an elitist music and this album is a lot less than that”. That’s probably why my young palette enjoyed it more. Amy had a couple of kindred musical spirits to help bring it all to life and to the world in Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi (who is lesser known than Mark but, dare I say, more significant in my larger scheme of musical things).
Beyond the album, I especially love watching these clips from South by Southwest in 2007 just after the release of Back to Black. The natural gift that is Amy’s voice and her subtle flair for performing are as captivating as any of the songs.
I also remember the day she died, only six years ago today. We were having drinks on our balcony with friends when the news came through. Despite her troubled past, there was still a palpable sense of shock and sadness. A little later that afternoon, a friend arrived wearing cut-off denim shorts, a black bodysuit and black blazer, with a wide brimmed black hat to boot. We were admiring her commitment to dressing so precisely for the occasion, and certainly at such short notice, too. But she didn’t know Amy had died. She was literally just wearing that on a Saturday afternoon anyway.
It did provide us some light relief on an otherwise dark day, which is maybe how Amy felt penning and performing some of her lyrics too.
[…] Beyond its unique role on the album, there is something extra special about this song that I just can’t put my finger on. Jorja Smith’s vocal style is undoubtedly indebted to Amy Winehouse – Amy was her idol after all. Maybe it’s that this song, not just in voice but in feeling, is closest to the rawness of Back to Black. And y’all know how I feel about Amy and that album. […]