Back with bigger hair and a better album...
Chris Taylor
13:09 31st October 2006

Now armed with a smaller waist and bigger hair, ‘Back To Black’ sees Amy Winehouse undergo something of a makeover. Teaming up with uber-producer Mark Ronson – fresh from working his magic on Winehouse’s fellow gobby Londoner and stage schooler Lily Allen – the album ditches  the jazz-pretentions of her debut, ‘Frank’ in favour of a far more palatable retro brand.

The fifties and sixties pop of girl groups such of The Ronnettes, complemented by liberal dashes of Motown and Gospel are evidenced throughout the album, with songs such as ‘Tears Dry On Their Own’, ‘Me And Mr Jones’ and ‘He Can Only Hold Her’ lending a strong pop spine to the record. Ronson oversaw a similar genre-shift on the latest Christina Aguilera album, but Winehouse’s nakedly autobiographical and often charmingly idiosyncratic lyrical style preserves her individuality.

The results is a far more satisfying, cohesive record than ‘Frank’. Opener ‘Rehab’ has already given Winehouse her debut Top 40 hit and is typical of much of ‘Back To Black’ - contrasting a song which wouldn’t sound out of place on ‘Aretha Now’ with a striking lyric. However, having established a reputation more for her combative personality than her music, ‘Rehab’ is about as “in your face” as Winehouse gets. Reined in by the songs’ sharper focus, she utilises her undoubtedly remarkable voice in a more mature manner, retreating from an Aguileraesque penchant for using nine octaves when one will do.

Similarly, the angry, jilted girl evident on her debut seems to have developed into a young woman who largely focuses a more melancholic reflection onto herself instead. The best example of this is the title track and the best song on the album, ‘Love Is A Losing Hand’, where, by managing to leave the specifics to our imagination, Winehouse finally delivers a song which could comfortably stand the test of time.