While Newsweek wasted an entire page talking about her out-of-control drinking and raging fists, I'll only waste two sentences. Sure, the image goes in hand with the music (or the name) Winehouse's unapologetic rejection of sobriety on "Rehab" is the built-in promotional tool that lets PR guys go home early. But if shambalism alone were enough to carry the day, every man, woman and child would've bought a copy of America's Sweetheart. Winehouse happens to also be a brilliant songwriter, one who can take a Polaroid of a song as familiar as "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," throw the picture out, then hand you the negative peel-off as a song as compelling as "Tears Dry on Their Own." The earlier hit was a beautiful mirage in reality, Tammi Terrell was getting her brains bashed in by an abusive boyfriend and Marvin Gaye was in a troubled marriage but for that two and a half minutes, the pair were thrilled to be pretend lovers in a dream world. With Winehouse, you get the myth of romance tempered with a self-awareness so brutal that even romanticized heartbreak is deflated ("He takes the day, the sun goes down" soon gives way to "I'll be some next man's other woman soon.") Producer Mark Ronson may be reprising his retro-work with Christina Aguilera here, but Back to Black is to Back to Basics what Let It Bleed was to Let it Be, a lifestyle rather than a stylistic exercise.
So if Winehouse is a vocal magpie who can sound like Billie Holiday at last call or Ronnie Spector before she had a gun pulled on her, she sounds like she's living the lifestyle and not playing dress-up. Except maybe for her use of the word "fuckery" on the bawdy "Me & Mr. Jones." But who can fault a gal for watching Deadwood?
Serene Dominic writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.