Tuesday 26 July 2011

Amy Winehouse | Obituary

Amy WinehouseSinger-songwriter. Born London September 14, 1984. Died July 23, aged 27.

IN the middle of last year Amy Winehouse announced in an interview that her new album would be released in January, 2011. The month came and went, however, with no sign of the album and little indication the singer would ever rid herself of her demons long enough to complete the task.

Events of the past few weeks merely accentuated the negatives that have plagued Winehouse's career. The 27-year-old star was booed off stage in Belgrade due to her erratic behaviour: unable to remember lyrics, showing disregard for the audience, living up to the reputation that has accompanied her for the past five years.

"Most people my age spend a lot of time thinking about what they are going to do for the next five or 10 years," she once said. "The time they spend thinking about their life, I just spend drinking."

Her death at the weekend is a tragic loss of life and talent. Winehouse joins a long list of rock and pop stars who have died at the same age, among them Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison of the Doors.

What is clear is that Winehouse was a great innovator whose boldness and ability to craft songs in a variety of musical genres promised greatness. With her voice, her attitude and her songwriting she changed the face of British pop music and paved the way for a wealth of new international talent, from Lady Gaga to Adele, that has gone on to eclipse her own success.

Both those stars have acknowledged their debt to Winehouse's groundbreaking talents, although other female singers such as Duffy and Rumer could be equally indebted to her - and to the poppier and cheekier Lily Allen - for paving their way with a mixture of attitude and pop savvy.

Had she lived to release that new album, perhaps Winehouse would have reclaimed her crown as pop queen. But to do so she would have needed to make drastic readjustments to her lifestyle.

It's that disastrous catalogue of binges, court cases, rehab and volatile relationships that undermined her undoubted talent and that produced the majority of headlines from the moment she announced herself as the new enfant terrible of pop.

It started brightly.

Winehouse, born in London's Southgate and raised in a Jewish family, experimented with bands and genres as a teenager and got her first break when she signed a management contract with Simon Fuller (of Idol fame) in 2002.

Soon afterwards she signed to Island Records and released her debut album, Frank, to critical acclaim in 2003. The album was not a huge commercial success initially, but sales were bolstered by her nomination for a Brit Award as best female solo artist and her winning, alongside producer Salaam Remi, of the Ivor Novello Award for their song from the album, Stronger Than Me.

The album's jazzy inflections drew comparisons to jazz divas such as Sarah Vaughan and Nina Simone, with one reviewer describing Winehouse's approach as "at once innocent and sleazy".

Such innocence that existed on her debut quickly evaporated on her follow-up. She teamed up again with producer Remi and with hip British producer Mark Ronson, whose other album credits include Allen and Christina Aguilera.

Rather than as jazz chanteuse, the album Back to Black, released in 2006, announced Winehouse as a sexy pop vamp with one foot still in the sleazy jazz camp but the other stomping wildly to the 60s pop music of the Crystals and the Ronettes as well as soul divas such as Aretha Franklin.

The soulful groove of all of the songs on the album was elevated by the Dap-Kings, a New York based soul outfit already lauded as the backing band for American soul singer Sharon Jones. The album was a sensation, a pivotal album in the world of pop.

It could be said also that Back to Black was the beginning of Winehouse's fame and also of her slow and largely ugly descent into addiction and tabloid hell, but the rot had set in even before the album was released.

By 2005 Winehouse had admitted to having problems with drug use, heavy drinking and with depression and eating disorders. Her heavily tattooed frame could not disguise how frail she was even then.

The autobiographical nature of Rehab, her signature song from Back to Black, left no one in doubt about her personal life, and such a revelation made her an immediate target for the news media.

By the time Back to Black had become a worldwide success, Winehouse's physical and mental condition appeared to have deteriorated. Shows were cancelled and she spent weeks at a time either in hospital or in rehab.

In 2007 she married Blake Fielder-Civil, a fellow drug addict in Miami, Florida, and from then until their divorce in 2009 her troubles were compounded by her husband's brushes with the law, which included him serving time in prison for assaulting a pub landlord.

Winehouse was charged with common assault on another occasion and found guilty assaulting a theatre manager who asked her to move from her seat.

As her drug addiction escalated, her father, Mitch Winehouse, intervened, along with her manager, by trying unsuccessfully to have her sectioned. Instead Winehouse continued on her downward spiral, with more time spent in hospital or in rehab. She spent a week in the Priory clinic in England only two months ago, ahead of her European tour.

As the period since Back to Black's release faded, Winehouse channelled some of her reputed £10 million ($15m) fortune into outside ventures, including a Fred Perry clothing line, while featuring in the best or worst-dressed columns of fashion magazines.

She also started her own record label, Lioness. Her 15-year-old god-daughter, singer Dionne Bromfield, with whom Winehouse made her last public appearance at a London concert last Wednesday, was her first signing to the label.

The longer Winehouse delayed making any new music, however, the more her destructive nature became the focal point of the media. Her failure to compensate for her unruly behaviour with any kind of competent or engaging performances served only to make her a caricature of the artist that she was capable of being.

So we will never know the full extent of the talent Winehouse held, however tenuously, in her grasp. What we do know is that within a short time she was able to do what every pop musician dreams of doing: to make a piece of art that will long be considered a landmark in music history.

Back to Black was a monster of an album, one of those rare entities that became water-cooler conversation, not just because the great songs, such as Rehab, You Know I'm No Good, Tears Dry on Their Own, Just Friends and the title track, but also because of the woman behind them - her voice, her image, her sexiness, her talent.
It is an album that had a lot of potential.

Author | Source | Iain Shedden | The Australian | July 25th 2011 

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