Friday, March 21, 2008

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 clich├ęs 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.

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4 Comments:

At 4:10 AM , Blogger Snickollet said...

I've considered buying this album and have not yet taken the plunge. I think you just tipped the scales for me.

As for the school thing, I have very strong feelings about supporting public schools, so I would choose one of the two public options. I cannot get past the elitism of private education, and I'm pretty much convinced that a smart kid with a smart parent (such as your daughter) will get a good education in the public schools. Where you see weaknesses in the curriculum, you can supplement at home.

But that is, of course, just me.

 
At 6:11 AM , Blogger Visiting Prof said...

You may also want to check out Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. They (the Kings, not Jones) are Winehouse's backup band, and they kick butt. Also, they (Jones AND the Kings) are amazing in that they are an unreconstructed, non-ironic soul/funk band circa 1972. I hate dancing, yet even they make me want to get stupid.

 
At 6:57 AM , Blogger Dorcasina said...

Snick--
I SO hear you on the elitism thing; I spent two days planning to choose a public school and then bounced back. I like the image of us as part of our local public school community and am anxious about the (rich) families at the private school. Although there is a "hippie" quality to the private school that helps...

VisProf,
Yes, I read about Sharon Jones (she's mentioned, thank heavens, in most of the reviews/discussions of Winehouse and the Kings) and she is on my list. I could use some "get stupid" right about now!

 
At 8:55 AM , Blogger bg's Little Sis said...

Thanks for the review, it's next on my download list now.

 

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