Sunday, July 24, 2011

RIP Amy Winehouse (1983-2011)

British singer Amy Winehouse was found dead in her London home from causes yet unknown. She was 27.

Winehouse's dysfunctional personal life and troubles with substance abuse were legendary and had become something of a running pop-cultural joke. But that aside, let's focus on her music. She only released two albums, but each made a significant impact. Frank (2003) was nominated for a Mercury Music Prize, while Back to Black (2006) was a multi-platinum-selling number 1 hit around the world. The two albums when taken together show the breadth of Winehouse's singing and songwriting ability. Frank is a jazz album with soul and hip-hop inflections, while Back to Black is strongly influenced by 60s girl-group soul.

Winehouse deserves a lot of credit for re-introducing retro-soul to the mainstream; it was a style bubbling around in the early 00s waiting for a larger audience, until Back to Black put the genre back in the top 10. The key was Winehouse's use of Mark Ronson and Salam Remi as producers, and NYC's fabulous Dap Kings as her backing band. It is fair to say that the huge success of two other British female singers, Adele and Duffy, owes a lot to Winehouse's breakthrough with Rehab.

One of my all-time favourite dance-and-get-wild tracks is Winehouse's guest appearance on Mark Ronson's Versions album. Valerie is a cover of the Zutons' 2006 hit, which is very different but also awesome in its own right.

But while Winehouse's best-known work was similarly brash and brassy, her slower, tender moments were often even better. Love is a Losing Game, off her second album, is just amazing in it's timeless beauty.

Frank to me is an uneven album stylistically, and Winehouse herself said she was only 80% happy with it. But it has some wonderful songs, particularly this one, Help Yourself. The song title is sadly ironic.

1 comment:

  1. Holy crap! I leave the country (granted she's not American) for a few weeks, and look what happens. I was just listening to one of her albums last week in Malaysia!