Too Fast, Too Fragile: A Short Tribute To Back To Black

On the album's 9th anniversary, the devastating truth in its words ring heavier than ever...
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On the album's 9th anniversary, the devastating truth in its words ring heavier than ever...
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People can sing about doomed love and bad influences pouring in and out of themselves like a winter wave all they want, but sooner or later, whether they're the greatest actor in the world or it's greatest imitator they'll be found out. Whether it's in their lyrics or the light in their eyes flickering away to a vanishing point - only those with true experience of the midnight hours can really deliver the wild experiences of living and loving on the dark side. Anyone and anything else is simply fake and window dressing.

No one could ever have accused Amy Winehouse of being a fake. Not by 2006 anyway. By then the former record label muse had become bored with being shaped and moulded by an industry that had become more smothering than anything. The coffee table coda of British soul music had long been a poor imitator of its American cousin. Heavy stylised and over produced, it seemed doomed to play out in supermarket aisles and evaporate into history like a fish whisper crawling into the dark.

What was required was a re-invention and ironically it was a different flick knife pose that achieved it both for the genre and Winehouse herself. From the heavy jazz influence of her debut album, which had been well received but hardly groundbreaking, she cast a knowing glance to the pistolero girl groups of the American sixties. Street tough sisters like the Ronette's and the Shangri La's had been well versed throughout their careers in the universal themes of lost love and teenage tragedy. Their brand of soulful pop spoke of bad boys and broken hearted nights. Angry mascara running down flushed cheeks. For a woman already in an all encompassing and turbulent relationship like she was, for Amy Winehouse the transition must have seemed perfect.

For whilst Tina had her Ike, Amy had her Blake. Their relationship was the blue centre light behind the creation of Back to Black. The idea of a certain type of love that causes a derangement of the senses, which to her eternal credit Winehouse didn't try to dilute in the written form. She simply opened up her pain and obsession onto the page drop by drop. Not since Kurt Cobain had the coda of pop music been both so autobiographical and atavistic. It was spellbinding really. Closed of fist and all embracing, the fact that a young woman from Camden had created it so effortlessly, marked Winehouse as the bright future for British music.

In many ways though the warning signs were already there. Back to Black really was a wolf in sheep's clothing. Behind the purity of that voice, the soulful arrangements, it's sheer fist punching energy - the dark clouds of something ominous lay. Titles like 'You Know I'm No Good' and 'Love Is A Losing Game', may have sounded like a traditional statement of pop romanticism - but really they were almost an exercise in self loathing. It may have given the record an authenticity, but it also gave a heavy clue to what was coming next. It's huge success seemed to accelerate the idea of art imitating life till the self destructive poetry oozed from out of the record grooves into the well worn silhouette of another pointless tragedy. But then that was Amy all over. The genius soul diva who was too fast, too fragile and too brutally honest not to wear her beating love heart on her sleeve. Until there was simply nothing left of her. God bless her.