The following is an excerpt from Kate Solomon's new book, Amy Winehouse, which is out now in the U.K. and sees U.S. release on April 13. Amy Winehouse is the second book in Laurence King Publishing's Lives of the Musicians series. Kate Solomon is a music journalist who has written for The Guardian, Q, Sunday Times Culture, Time Out and Billboard.
It's strange to go back and try to listen to Back to Black with new ears. It's become such a part of the cultural landscape that even if you've never listened to the full album, you know parts of it intimately – in the same way that even if you've never seen Star Wars, you know something about Luke Skywalker and his family situation. It's also very hard to listen to now you know it's part of the end of the story, rather than the opening chapter it should have been. So much of what Amy went through in life is in there. She snuck stories of a 20-something's occasionally scandalous love life into the living rooms and CD players of millions of parents by couching talk of wet d--ks, carpet burn, too much booze and general 'f--kery' in vintage Motown sounds and girl-group melodies. A Trojan horse with a capital T. As usual, it's full of feints and misdirection – 'Rehab', for example, a party tune we spend our Saturday nights dancing to, but also immortalizing a turning point, a moment in time when maybe an addict who later died could have been saved. The crab-claw beat and jaunty horns belie what we now know was a life or death subject matter – but hey, it's also a killer pop song. And sometimes you can listen to it one way, and sometimes the other.
The homages to the olden days extend to the album's length – 11 songs, each around the 3-minute mark, as if they're set to be released on '45s, so it's a short but bittersweet trip through heartache and out into ... what? Redemption? Resolution? Resignation? Perhaps a bit of all three – but certainly not into rehabilitation. Just as with Frank, Amy lambasts herself for making bad choices. 'You Know I'm No Good' shrugs to us like, 'Hey, you knew this wouldn't end well.' These songs burn with Amy's fear that she'll always be left, alone, crying on the kitchen floor with a cold bag of KFC by her side.