Amy Winehouse’s second album, Back to Black, is one of the finest soul albums, British or otherwise, to come out for years. Frank, her first album, was a sparse and stripped-down affair; Back to Black, meanwhile, is neither of these things. This time around, 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. With the help of producers Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi, “Rehab” becomes a gospel-tinged stomp, while the title track (and album highlight) is a heartbreaking musical tribute to Phil Spector, with it’s echoey bass drum, rhythmic piano, chimes, saxophone and close harmonies. Best of all, though, is the fact that Back to Black bucks the current trend in R&B by being 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.
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