By now you have probably heard about Amy Winehouse, the British soul singer whose CD Back to Black had its Stateside debut last month.
Understandably, the track on Back to Black that gets the most attention is "Rehab," which is ear-catching right out of the gate: "They tried to make me go to rehab, but I said no, no no..." Winehouse, who has had her share of publicly drunken episodes, wrote this song before they tried to make Britney Spears go to rehab. The song would have gotten noticed anyway, but how's that for timing?
My real introduction to Amy Winehouse was via this tour video by Roots drummer Questlove, which features an all-Winehouse soundtrack and a teensy cameo by the singer. The video closes with a full-blast, fade-to-black airing of the track "Tears Dry on Their Own." While "Rehab" is fun to listen to, it's "Tears Dry on Their Own" that made me say, "Wait... who is this, again?"
"Tears Dry on Their Own" is a treasure for those of us who have, on occasion, done some wallowing in heartache with musical accompaniment. Many R&B singers have carried on the "I Will Survive" tradition, from Mariah Carey ("Someday," a favorite of my mom's) to Mary J. Blige ("Not Gon' Cry") to Beyonce ("Me, Myself and I").
Winehouse's contribution to the musical-healing subgenre is striking because it captures emotional devastation, defiance and regret without pitching into melodrama or silliness. The chorus is lovely: "He walks away/The sun goes down/He takes the day, but I'm grown/And it's OK/In this blue shade/My tears dry on their own." Wash that face and get your stoicism on, ladies!
For many listeners, the appeal of Back to Black will be the production -- which sounds like it comes straight out of a '60s girl group -- and Winehouse's brassy-broad vocals. But Winehouse's songwriting is complex enough to keep her from being just a derivative of something better. She adopts the posture of a modern-day Rizzo, a cool bad girl who walks the line between liberation and self-destruction: sex, pot, alcohol, profanity, wrong turns.
Winehouse's first album, 2003's Frank, sounded both less anachronistic and less distinctive. Somehow the '60s sound on Back to Black lends her songs, and her persona, more of an impact -- but here's hoping it doesn't become a crutch.
Annoyingly and inexplicably, the American release of Back to Black does not feature the amusing and sticky "Addicted." The song, about the sanctity of one's weed stash, is another example of Winehouse's playfulness and the album's tight production. Legalize it!