A 21ST CENTURY CLASSIC; a global phenomenon; a seminal moment in British music. Ten years on from its release, TTV takes a look back at Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black; an album that continues to reverberate the kind of power and influence that stands it aloft as one of the UK’s biggest selling records in history.
Released back in October 2006, Back to Black emerged at a time when it would be deemed an unlikely sensation; commercial pop ruled the charts, television talent shows were tightening their grip on the nation and a Take That reunion had the country in a tizz. Elsewhere, guitar bands were appearing from all sides with the indie rock boom, led by Arctic Monkeys who brought out their seminal debut Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not.
With her bold, no-cares attitude and sixties soul indebted sound, Amy Winehouse was a breath of fresh air, and Back To Black was the album to thrust overwhelming mainstream success upon her with Grammys, Brit Awards and countless other accolades appearing from left, right and centre in the months that followed. Dispelling any notion of the ‘difficult second album’, it followed the modest success of her debut record Frank, which itself had received its fair share of critical acclaim. However, choosing to depart from its laid-back jazzy stylings, Winehouse embraced her sixties motown influences with the help of producer Mark Ronson; her incomparable soulful vocals sitting at the centre of a truly stunning record with all the authenticity of her bygone musical heroes.
Thanks to her deeply personal and at times brutally honest lyrics, Back to Black effectively captured the emotional turmoil of a collapsing relationship at a time when she was able to channel her dark feelings into her music with great stirring effect. Addiction, passion, self-recrimination and remorse fuelled her writing as she sang openly about female desire in ways that none of her contemporaries would imagine, often with a startlingly explicit and memorable turn of phrase. From the defiant signature track ‘Rehab’ to the innovative sampling of a soul classic in ‘Tears Don’t Dry On Their Own’ to the tear-stained ballad ‘Love Is A Losing Game’, it’s an album which to this day swells with fearlessness and sincerity, betraying nuances of sensitivity while providing an insight into a deeply complex character who refused to conform to any mainstream ideals.
Of course, it is that unique and immediately recognisable voice which became synonymous with her music and stood her apart as one of the greatest soul singers of the generation. Able to articulate deep feeling through the slightest affectation, it is a voice that people all over the world fell in love with, thanks largely to Back to Black. Working wonderfully with the production from US hip-hop producer Salaam Remi and the then up and coming Mark Ronson, their use of funky instrumentation and motown grooves married cool, retro vibes with a bright, punchy modern sensibility that was reflective of Winehouse’s contemporary viewpoint; the arrangements and vocals coming together to create a timeless sound that would make her one of the UK’s finest musical exports.
Of course, the success of Back to Black would thrust Winehouse into the public eye with devastating consequences; her personal struggles with addiction becoming easy prey for the tabloids and threatening to overshadow her music career. Her tragic and untimely death in 2011 left an irreplaceable void in British music along with the sad knowledge that we would never see her immense talent be fully recognised again; meaning that her second album would be her last. Having paved the way for more likeminded artists to break through in the industry, the influence it continues to hold is perhaps unquantifiable; but as one of the UK’s most celebrated albums in modern times, its legacy will continue to live on.