Fecking Brilliant(Fear not--there's still time to weigh in on the kindergarten dilemma! The forms don't go in 'til Monday!)
I recently treated myself to Amy Winehouse's Grammy-winning and accolade-inspiring album, "Back to Black." The first time I listened to it, carelessly, in the car, I sort of liked it. I'm a sucker for those 60s R&B arrangements, and all the horns blaring away. But I thought, basically, "nice, but derivative...does she even write this stuff?"
Well, apparently she does (write her music), and the more I listen to it, the more effing brilliant it sounds. She's got the blowsy chanteuse down to an art form; her voice is edgy, nasal, and dark, and sounds like cigarettes and bourbon in a sleazy bar at last call. The melodies clearly owe a great debt to Dusty Springfield (or her songwriters), but as channeled through Billie Holliday. It's a voice that's stayed out all night, singing songs about having seen too much, wanted too much, felt too much, felt too little. The words are jarring, profane, unpoetic, and inspired (not, however, inspiring). The arrangements are rich, sultry, and just shy of excessive, with a kind of overblown sweetness that brings to mind spilled liquor, the juice of a dark cherry just past ripe, something redolent of sweat and stale perfume. Her diction is wildly idiosyncratic--strange elisions, garbled vowels, consonants jammed together and then teased back apart. The album as a whole brings to mind nothing so much as a cheap hotel room, sheets in disarray, and on the nightstand, a toppled bottle and an overflowing ashtray. But there's an intelligence behind the tawdriness, and an aching beauty in the songs; the album seems to acknowledge that love, betrayal, and loss are stale clichés while insisting that in the end, nothing else really matters. Somehow the detachment of the clever lyrics conveys both a hard-edged postmodern approach to life and the aching sincerity it has replaced.