They say you can't polish a turd. You can, however, take something good and smear shit all over it, which is exactly what Amy Winehouse did to Back to Black. Rather than finding a unique and creative way to share her experiences with her listeners, she insults us by beating us over the head with lyrics that scream, "I'm an insecure child trapped in a woman's body, PAY ATTENTION TO ME."
The words that she's smeared all over these songs are horrible, which is a shame because the sound is a really good throwback to vocal jazz and soul of the '60s. At times, the music and Winehouse's voice are reminiscent of Nina Simone, but Simone never vomited out inane bullshit like "They tried to make me go to rehab I won't go go go," or "He left no time to regret / kept his dick wet." A good singer learns how to convey complex and difficult messages to her listeners. A good singer trusts her listeners to listen. Winehouse is not a good singer. Like Marilyn Manson and Fred Durst, Winehouse seems to thrive on the idea that listeners will be shocked -- SHOCKED, I tell you -- by her tales of addiction and unrequited sex.
I kind of feel sorry for Amy Winehouse, because she's gotten wrapped up in some bad shit. I feel more sorry for all the schmucks who bought into the piece of crap that is Back to Black, though. Just say no, my friends. Just say no.
Everything about the music -- including the vocal melodies and Winehouse's voice -- is decent, but Winehouse's attempt to write lyrics is a miserable failure. There are moments when she shows that, somewhere deep in the echoing chamber of her skull, she understands what it means to be a good lyricist. "Wake Up Alone" demonstrates her potential with words better than anything on the album, but it's an island in a sea of clichéd rhymes and wasted metaphors. If Winehouse can figure out how to tell her stories in a compelling and unique way, she will be a force to reckon with. It'll be interesting to see how she grows as an artist.
It's a bunch of pictures of a woman trying to look sexy. It would be much more exciting if it were a bunch of pictures of a woman succeeding at looking sexy. As the cover stands now, it's awkward and uncomfortable and completely unattractive. Which actually (albeit unintentionally) fits the lyrical tone of the album perfectly.
Listen if you like: shocking your parents with adolescent lyrics about drug abuse and sex. If you are actually interested in this kind of music, go out and find copies of Nina Simone's Wild is the Wind or The Supremes' I Hear a Symphony or even The Propellorheads duet with Shirley Bassey on "History Repeating."
If it were food, it'd be: a moist and delicious cake with a strange, smelly, brown frosting.