Having grown to love the exquisite sweet-sour cocktail jazz of Frank, I was almost in trepidation to hear what Amy Winehouse had delivered more than 3 years after her legendary debut album. Gone soul, said the reviews, but just as frank as ever.
After 3 days of playing the new album non-stop in my car, I'm delighted to report that Amy is none the worse for her soul 'n' ska trip, though I do miss the jazzy bits. Parts of Back to Black almost stand as a 60s Motown album, had Phil Spector been allowed out of prison to help with the production. Amy nods to her influences, even calling one track 'Me and Mr Jones' after the great Billy Paul number. The melodies are often delicate and delicious, the doo-wop harmonies and horns vintage, and Miss W is in fine voice, her Marlboro & whisky-stained vocals just adding a tart and sassy edge to counteract the melodic sweetness, which in some hands might have become cloying and sickly.
However, she remains however distinctly larger than life - the lyrics, thoughtfully printed here on the inner sleeve, would have been censored within seconds, had anyone ventured to write them in the 60s, Her life is so completely within the public domain you wonder what secrets the poor girl has retained, but on the evidence of her output to date the only thankless task is that of being her current boyfriend - they receive short shrift and withering contempt!
This is a fine collection, well worthy of its excellent predecessor. I just wish her influences could expand beyond the medium to become a unique Winehouse style rather than apeing other styles, no matter how well it's done. No doubt that will come in time...
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