Amy Winehouse

    Frank (Island, 2003)
      Back to Black (Island, 2006)

Amy Winehouse would be impossibly annoying if she weren't so damn good. A British singer-songwriter whose obsession with vintage American soul and jazz often takes the form of direct imitation (her vocals lift the signature moves of Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday), she's made her gradual self-destruction not just the focus of her public image but the subject of many of her best songs. Frank is the sound of a prodigiously talented artist trying to figure out what she wants to do with all that talent, and was reportedly subject to extensive record-company tinkering: Winehouse claimed, the year after its release, that she'd "never heard the album from start to finish." Its highlights are more moments than songs--the Stevie Wonder chords of "You Sent Me Flying," the way Winehouse rides producer Salaam Remi's beat on "In My Bed," the smirking tone of the infidelity confession "I Heard Love Is Blind" ("I was thinking of you when I came," she offers in her defense).

Back to Black is an unlikely marvel, a desperately sad and stirring record whose hooks and production (by Remi and Mark Ronson) are worthy of the soul hall-of-famers she namedrops - "Tears Dry On Their Own" is basically "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" recast as self-recrimination. Most of its songs concern painful love affairs and how they go horribly wrong, notably the harrowing, lacerating "You Know I'm No Good" (also present in a superb remix featuring Ghostface Killah). Still, it's telling that Winehouse's breakthrough hit goes "They tried to make me go to rehab/I said no, no, no."

She sure did. At some point after Back to Black, Winehouse appears to have crossed the line between acting out of control as entertainment and actually losing control; since then, her career has yielded various onstage meltdowns, arrests and paparazzi photos, as well as exactly one notable recording, a cover (with Ronson) of the Zutons' "Valerie."

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