Demons hid amazing talent
BRITISH singer Amy Winehouse has been eulogised and condemned in the fortnight since her untimely death at 27; praised as a talented singer and written off as a junkie.
But if we brush aside all the trappings of fame, her personal life and obvious demons, what’s left is the music – and her music was amazing, touching and disarmingly honest.
Let’s start with her debut Frank, which ushered in Winehouse as a flag bearer for the next generation of talented British jazz artists.
What set her apart are the album’s hip-hop beats that laid a swaggering foundation underneath Frank’s jazzy melodies.
Her voice was sharp, mature, rich and dripping with an attitude not often heard from a 19-year-old.
Brazen single Stronger Than Me was an attack on a withering man while on Amy Amy Amy she told herself off for having such a soft spot for bad boys.
There’s high drama on the soulful outing In My Bed; quirky fun on an ode to her favourite guitar Cherry; and then a tale about cheating on her boyfriend called I Heard Love Is Blind.
She showed off a cutting but funny side with F---Me Pumps, a song about gold-digging groupies who were out to snag a football player for a husband.
Sometimes Winehouse sounded sleazy, others innocent. Her appetite for self-destruction was yet to be revealed but her classic jazz croon always had a dirty edge.
Next came Back to Black and its ridiculous single Rehab, which made her an international pop star.
On an album that is so very nearly flawless, this song sticks out like a bad smell in an elevator.
As a B-side to a single it might have been an almost funny brush-off of the people who had concerns about her hard-partying lifestyle.
This album turned its back on her jazz roots, favouring Motown and doo-wop sounds.
Super-producer Mark Ronson helped her deliver its melancholic melodies, a blast of hip-hop toughness in the rhythm section and a ’ 60s atmosphere.
There was not a drop of happiness on the song that shared the album’s name or its sad siblings Love Is a Losing Game, Tears Dry on Their Own or Wake Up Alone. Each took inspiration from her heartache over a lost lover and each word stings with the betrayal she was feeling. Amazing confessional songwriting with a capital A, easily the best music she ever wrote.
What really made Back to Black special was the climate it was released in. Somehow Winehouse flourished as an old-fashioned songwriter against a world of over-produced, often untalented contemporaries.
Anyone who was a fan, listened to these albums or read gossip magazines could have guessed that, unfortunately, Back to Black was destined to be Amy Winehouse’s swansong.