The tenth anniversary of Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black is tinged with sadness and reverence for the late, great singer. Released in 2006, this was her breakout album, and it was a critical hit. Even though her career was short lived, the influence she has had on the music world and our culture is phenomenal. From Adele to Lykke Li and every singer in between, her sound and style has been mimicked. The incorporation of jazz and heavy piano use was brought back into revival by her, and the trend hasn’t ended, even without the creation of new music.
Each track on Back to Black is unique, something artists these days struggle with. Differentiating each song and making them memorable is a monumental task when certain singing styles or music genres don’t offer much room to put a spin on it but make it sound authentic. The jazz influences are obvious in Winehouse’s songs all throughout this album, but it never gets old. “Rehab”, the opening song, is up-tempo and full of spice and flare. Rather than parental rebellion, it’s more of a stubbornness to stick to her ways. Especially demonstrated by the line, “They tried to make me go to rehab/I said no, no, no.” She thinks she is fine, and her determination to be that is expressed.
Horns are especially prominent in her music, and in “You Know I’m No Good”, they help carry the rhythm and melodic line. Crooning about her relationship, she tells the story of cheating on her current boyfriend with her ex. Contrary to what you might think, it’s not about forgiveness; in fact, it speaks to the fact that her boyfriend should’ve known her tendencies and that it was his fault for becoming invested. She kicks herself for getting together with him because of the way he treats her, and she treats lyrics delicately compared to the other songs that it comes off perfectly.
Of course we can’t forget about the titular song, “Back to Black”, an absolute masterpiece and one of her most recognizable songs. Ballad stylings, such as the use of violins and extensive use of the piano, all while keeping true to her style, is what makes it memorable. The piano riff and instrumentals balance each other out and allows for the emphasis at the right moments. “We only said goodbye with words/I died a hundred times/You go back to her/And I go back to black” are the few lines that seem to strike a chord with every listener. It’s relatable, and the emotions her voice seems to put behind it makes us enveloped in the situation. I yearn to help her, and the realism of the situation draws us in without us realizing. It’s become essential to play it after any and all terrible breakups.
Luckily, this album has very few shortcomings. Every single song could be worthy of being released as a single, and each is enticing. Often there are certain tracks on albums that are never worth mentioning when critiquing or discussing albums in general. Back to Black is that rare exception that everyone listens to and hears something extraordinary in every piece. “Tears Dry On Their Own” is just more proof. It’s a tad bit more happy sounding than some, but still has an introspective stance and heavy focus on relationships.
Let’s not forget the fact that soon after Back to Black was released, it was nominated and won Best Pop Vocal Album at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards. Winehouse took home three other trophies that night, some for her single “Rehab”. To say she is influential is an understatement. She revived a retro-style of pop that continues to be emulated by other popular artists today.