By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
A few weeks ago, someone sent me a link to a Daily Mail piece featuring pics of Winehouse and her husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, banged up and bleeding after an early-morning rift at a London hotel that reportedly followed hubbie walking in on Winehouse as she was kicking it with a "call girl," as she put it, and about to indulge in certain sublegal unmentionables. Fielder-Civil told his wife that she wasn't good enough for him, which caused her to freak out and start cutting herself, and a minor melee ensued. Then Winehouse fled the hotel on foot and jumped into a passerby's car while Fielder-Civil walked around in a haze, calling after her after briefly giving chase.
Less than 24 hours later, though, the pair were photographed together looking no worse for wear. And in a text message sent to Perez Hilton, Winehouse even claimed Fielder-Civil had saved her life.
The incident, along with the troubled singer's other well-publicized travails (the canceled shows, her alleged eating disorder, drug addiction and rumored overdose), have provided U.K. fishwraps with endless material, prompted a call from Winehouse's in-laws for a boycott of her work, and inspired countless comparisons of the turbulent couple to Sid and Nancy — all of which has sadly overshadowed the music. And that's a shame, because Back to Black is positively brilliant, an instant classic, the year's best record.
I know, I know — superlative much? But Black has its hooks deep into me, man. At the moment, in fact, it's ruined me for all other music. I simply cannot stop listening to it. Trust me, I've tried — but I just keep coming back to it like an incorrigible junkie. I'm hopelessly spun, and you will be, too, once you hear it. Often backed by Sharon Jones's illustrious Dap-Kings and bolstered by the vintage production of Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi — who do a masterful job of invoking a Wall of Sound between Hitsville and Memphis, with 'verby guitars, horn accents and sha-la-la harmonies — Winehouse showcases her extraordinary pipes on Black. As other critics have noted, she sounds like a full-figured Lauryn Hill channeling the golden throats of everyone from the Shirelles and the Ronettes to Sarah Vaughan and Etta James, to Diana Ross and the Supremes. After listening to Black's soul-drenched tracks, it's difficult to look at pictures of Winehouse and reconcile the fact that such a powerful, stunning voice is coming from someone with such an emaciated frame.
For those unfamiliar with Winehouse — in other words, the half-dozen or so octogenarians who haven't heard "Rehab," her ubiquitous single — the British ingenue first gained renown across the pond as a decidedly more voluptuous jazz singer. A precocious youngster, Winehouse got her start in Sweet 'N' Sour, a rap duo she formed with her best friend, and by the time she was old enough to drive, she was being managed by American Idol svengali Simon Fuller. Shortly thereafter, she released Frank, her 2003 import-only debut, which featured the feel-good, family-friendly hit of the summer, "Fuck Me Pumps." Following the release of that album, Winehouse went through a dry spell in terms of songwriting and apparently became quite the wino. Fuller and company, as the story goes, urged her to seek treatment for her Leaving Las Vegas ways. As documented in "Rehab," she said "No, no, no" and eventually sought out new handlers.
Ironically, "Rehab" — the song that's gotten her all the notoriety, further fueling her reckless ways — is the worst track on Black. I can't stand it. It's the reason that I avoided cracking the seal on the disc for so long. Well, that and the fact that I was completely turned off by all the breathless hyperbole that first surrounded its release. So it took me six months longer than everyone else, but I've officially hopped on the bandwagon, even if I still have no use for "Rehab," whose guileless lyrics strike me as a little trite: "I don't never want to drink again/I just, ohh, I just need a friend/I'm not going to spend ten weeks/Have everyone think I'm on the mend."
For my money, Winehouse is infinitely more believable on standout cuts like "Tears Dry on Their Own." You can hear the resolve in her voice as she tries to convince herself that it's going to be all right without him: "I shouldn't play myself again/I should just be my own best friend/Not fuck myself in the head with stupid men." Then, on "Wake Up Alone" — which reminds me of "Tears on My Pillow," by Little Anthony and the Imperials, meets "Crazy," by Patsy Cline — she comes to terms with her loneliness: "It's okay in the day/I'm staying busy/Tied up enough so I don't have to wonder where is he/Got so sick of crying/So just lately, when I catch myself I do a 180/I stay up clean the house; at least I'm not drinking/Run around just so I don't have to think about thinking."