Amy Winehouse makes time travel possible on her sophomore CD, Back to Black [Island]. In only thirty-four minutes and fifty-five seconds, she swings us back to the soul of the sixties, peppered with dirty lyrics and hip-hop beats. Along with Amy in her time machine is Mark Ronson, producer and band arranger, and a slew of brass and string players. Together they resurrect a cornerstone of popular R&B and soul music, a most excellent adventure.
The CD kicks off with “Rehab” which is so catchy, you will be sing along before the track is even over. “Me and Mr. Jones” is one of the best songs on the CD, but it will never reach radio play because of its language. Example: Amy sings, “Nowadays you don’t mean dick to me” and then the back-up vocals, “dick to me.” The only flaw on the track is Amy’s overuse of a good idea. Amy sings “What kind of fuckery is this?” and it’s beautiful. Who says fuckery? But then she overdoes it, repeating the word twice more in the second verse. It’s like she knew she was on to something, had a few drinks, plowed it in the ground, and forgot to listen to the playback. The novelty of the idea is dead before the song is over. More should be expected from songwriters. Potty language aside, this song could easily come from 1966.
Amy sounds like India Arie on the reggae-flavored “Just Friends,” and it flows perfectly into the next track “Back to Black.” In fact, each song flows perfectly into the next one. There are candle lit ballads like “Wake Up Alone” that follow stadium lights rockers like “Tears Dry On Their Own”-- a remix of the classic “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” that Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell made famous in 1967.
At times Amy’s voice also sounds remarkably like Lauryn Hill, minus the frills. Both sassy singers aggressively chase after low notes, but Lauryn’s lyrics struggle with redemption, whereas Amy’s lyrics document her journey to Hell (a liquor-filled life without her man). “Back to Black” sums it up: “You go on back to her/And I’ll go back to black” and as it dissipates, Amy repeats “black…” then the violins and cello come crying in like the civil rights movement. Hell is unavoidable, must be conquered, and Amy faces it head on.
This CD doesn’t need a hidden track, but “You Know I’m No Good,” the second song of ten on the CD is remixed, featuring Ghostface Killah from Wu-Tang Clan, making eleven total. Like I said, the CD doesn’t need another track, but the first song, “Rehab” does sound good following this track, as well as opening it up. So put “Back to Black” [Island] on repeat, you’re already singing along.