|First posted 3/29/2008; updated 12/19/2020.|
Back to Black
Released: October 6, 2006
Peak: 2 US, 16 UK, 4 CN, 4 AU
Sales (in millions): 2.3 US, 3.26 UK, 16.0 world (includes US and UK)
Genre: British blue-eyed soul
Song Title (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.
Total Running Time: 34:56
4.001 out of 5.00 (average of 29 ratings)
Quotable: “One of the finest soul albums, British or otherwise, to come out for years.” – Ted Kord, Amazon.com
Awards: (Click on award to learn more).
About the Album:
“The story of Back to Black is one in which celebrity and the potential of commercial success threaten to ruin Amy Winehouse.” AMG “It’s hard to recall, before the tabloid barking drowned out all else, how fresh this sounded – how funny, hip, instantly classic.” RS’11 “For one short moment, she pushed back the demons to make something this full of life.” GQ This “is one of the finest soul albums, British or otherwise, to come out for years.” AZ
Newsweek magazine hailed the “tatted 23-year-old with a beehive crown” RS’11 “as a cross between Billie Holiday and Lauryn Hill.” AZ The New York Daily News said the album “would do Etta James proud” AZ and New Yorker called her “a fierce English performer whose voice combines the smoky depths of a jazz chanteuse with the heated passion of a soul singer.” AZ Finally, Spin magazine said, “there’s never been a British star quite like her.” AZ
“Frank, her first album, was a sparse and stripped-down affair; Back to Black, meanwhile, is neither of these things.” AZ “As before, Winehouse writes all of the songs from her experiences, most of which involve the occasionally riotous and often bittersweet vagaries of love.” AMG She is “incandescently alive – funny, pissed off, in love – on her finest album.” GU “Also in similar fashion to Frank, her eye for details and her way of relating them are delightful.” AMG
However, this album “smolders with a bristling fusion of old school doo-wop/soul inflected uprisings,” AZ finding “her deserting jazz and wholly embracing contemporary R&B, all the best parts of her musical character emerge intact, and actually, are all the better for the transformation from jazz vocalist to soul siren.” AZ
This is “a beautiful album that highlighted her unique singing voice, which was at once euphoric and sorrowful,” PM and “the casual honesty she brought to inventorying her own flaws” GQ “The depth and pain in her voice…sounded like something she’d left outside overnight one too many times and then wrung out in the morning.” GQ
“With producer Salaam Remi returning from Frank, plus the welcome addition of Mark Ronson (fresh off successes producing for Christina Aguilera and Robbie Williams), Back to Black has a similar sound to Frank but much more flair and spark to it.” AMG “She’s taken her inspiration from some of the classic 1960’s girl groups like the Supremes and the Shangri-Las, a sound particularly suited to her textured vocal delivery, while adding a contemporary songwriting sensibility” AZ and offering up “her brassy mix of emotive vocals tinged with…sly funk, and anguished jazz.” AZ
“Ronson and Remi are two of the most facile and organic R&B producers active.” AMG “Ronson, with help from a band of devoted soul revivalists,” RS’11 “cherrypicked from the previous century of popular music (doo-wop, soul, hip-hop).” GU He “conjured golden-era sounds with a sample-sculpting hip-hop edge.” RS’11
“Tears Dry on Their Own is a sparkling homage to the Motown chestnut ‘Ain't No Mountain High Enough,’ and Ronson summons a host of Brill Building touchstones on his tracks.” AMG The title cut “is a heartbreaking musical tribute to Phil Spector, with it’s echoey bass drum, rhythmic piano, chimes, saxophone and close harmonies.” AZ
“The knockout first single” AMG and instant classic, Rehab, is “a gospel-tinged stomp” AZ which “captures a joyous Motown sound, but the sting of depression always lingers in the background. PM It won the Grammy for song and record of the year. In light of her substance abuse problems since, one may cringe at lines like “they tried to make me go to rehab/ I won’t go, go, go,” but it provides an authenticity and iconic nature most artists will never accomplish with a song.
“Winehouse confronts longing and loneliness head-on in slower, more soulful tracks like Love Is a Losing Game and Wake Up Alone, and they’re the most moving recordings of her career. After listening to this intensely personal record, there’s a sense that we’ve crawled inside the soul of a flawed, troubled woman who wanted nothing more than to be loved and deeply understood by those around her. Each track is a testament to Winehouse's vulnerability as a human, honesty as an artist, and brilliance as a musician.” PM
Back to Black is “unabashedly grown-up in both style and content. Winehouse’s lyrics deal with relationships from a grown-up perspective, and are honest, direct and, often, complicated: on You Know I’m No Good, she’s unapologetic about her unfaithfulness. But she can also be witty, as on Me & Mrs Jones when she berates a boyfriend with ‘You made me miss the Slick Rick gig’. Back to Black is a refreshingly mature soul album, the best of its kind for years.” AZ
“Her triumph triggered a resurgence of R&B traditionalism” RS’11 “paving the way for new artists Adele and Duffy as well as inspiring such established acts as Tom Jones and Raphael Saadiq.” EB “But it also kicked open the mainstream door for pop oddballs from Lily Allen to Lady Gaga.” RS’11 “No other artist, however, would release anything as convincingly sassy and dramatically beautiful as Back to Black.” EB
Notes: On the U.S. edition, “Addicted” was replaced with a remix of “You Know I’m No Good.” A 2007 deluxe edition adds a bonus disc to the original UK album. Cuts include “Valerie,” which was a hit with Mark Ronson, as well as covers of Sam Cooke’s “Cupid” and the Phil Spector-penned tune “To Know Him Is to Love Him.” Also here are “Monkey Man,” “Hey Little Rich Girl,” “You’re Wondering Now,” and alternate versions of “Some Unholy War” and “Love Is a Losing Game.” There have been many other variations of the album, but these are the most notable.
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