Despite having an all too short career – which saw just two albums released in her lifetime – Amy Winehouse has long been a household name in the UK; thanks largely to her second album ‘Back To Black’ – which, 14 years later, is still sitting comfortably in the UK top 100 albums charts. Her influence can also be clearly seen in artists like Adele, Duffy and Eliza Doolittle.
The first thing that stands out on ‘Back To Black’ (whose title alludes to depression) is the frank way Winehouse talks about her mental health and personal struggles; opening track ‘Rehab’ begins with the famous line “They tried to make me go to rehab / And I said ‘no, no, no'”. Later on in the track, Winehouse sings “He said, ‘I think you’re depressed’ / This, me: ‘yeah, baby, and the rest’”.
In this way, ‘Rehab’ perfectly sets the stage for the rest of this album. Second track ‘You Know I’m No Good’ sees Winehouse agonising once again (“I cheated myself like I knew I would”, “I cried for you on the kitchen floor”). Then, on ‘Me & Mr Jones’, Winehouse flexes her feminist bonafides, refusing to be defined by a past relationship (“What kind of f*ckery are we? / Nowadays you don’t mean d*ck to me”).
However, it is perhaps on the title track where Winehouse sings with the most emotion. When she sings “We only said goodbye with words / I died a hundred times”, the pain in her voice is clear, and it is the repetition of “black” (a metaphor for depression) in the bridge that cements the melancholic nature of this song.
Meanwhile, ‘Love Is A Losing Game’ has a simplistic beauty to it and offers some of Winehouse’s best lyricism on this album (“Love, it is a fate resigned / Over futile odds / And laughed at by the gods”).
As we enter the second half of this album, Winehouse begins to trade in the sombre tone for a more triumphant, forward-looking attitude. ‘Tears Dry On Their Own’ adds a lighter touch to this album, as Winehouse promises to be her “own best friend”. Meanwhile on ‘Wake Up Alone’, Winehouse seems to be making progress with her sobriety: “At least I’m not drinking” (though this song takes on a new, tragic perspective after Winehouse’s untimely death).
‘Back To Black’ ends with ‘Addicted’: a light-hearted track about marijuana use (“When you smoke all my weed man / You gots to call the green man”). On first listen, the song feels out of place on the track-listing and seems like an odd closer for the album. However, it’s refreshing and uplifting to hear Winehouse end her last non-posthumous album on a more positive note than one would expect given the rest of this album. It suggests that while Winehouse may have gone back to ‘black’ on this album, she wasn’t always consumed by it in her short life.