Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Amy, Amy, Amy!

It is Halloween and, perhaps appropriately, Amy Winehouse is Back To Black...

The album is out and it is amazingly good - as all top music reviewers have been saying - but what is it about this album that makes it so different to Frank in 2003? Yes it is slightly more polished, and it is certainly more consistent in style (but see below) and perhaps also better produced, but is it really such as a big departure from Frank?
I think not, and I'm rather pleased too. Frank was critically praised, nominated for a '2004 Brit Award' and even won her an 'Ivor Novello Award' for songwriting in 2004. It was regarded then as something slightly off the mainstream, and it didn't sell in vast quantities (though enough to have recently gone 'platinum' in the UK!), but the concept had much promise. Island Records clearly agreed and didn't attempt to fix anything that wasn't broken. In fact it seems they allowed the fixing of the few things that were, mostly by interfering less and in particular by not meddling with the album's production. This appears to have been a big issue with Frank and she claims that, although she loves to perform the tracks from it, she can't stand listening to the album. Having heard Amy perform live I can believe that; Back To Black sounds much more authentic and this may also account for it's consistency.

There is I suspect also a bit of duplicity involved. Popular taste has been moving in the direction of her music, indeed live music in general, in the intervening time and both the label and the magazine reviewers have responded accordingly:

The Voice of 2007. There's none better. - MOJO and Contender for 'Album of the Year' - NME.

That all seemed fairly obvious to me three years ago, hence my post last week that included my review of Frank from 2003, but what do I know? I feel vindicated as I have just had a look on amazon.co.uk
to see how 'Back To Black' is selling.

Even I was shocked and stunned - Back To Black is currently #1 in Music! Here she is looking quite normal.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Knives Don’t Have Your Back…

If you like the band Metric (of which she is the lead singer) or Haines’ work for the Canadian collective Broken Social Scene (notably vocals on ‘Ballad For a Seventeen-year-old Girl’) I can’t, in all honesty, say whether or not you are going to like this album at all!

The nearest this album gets, musically, to anything on Metric’s Old World Underground, Where Are You Now is probably The Lottery. It reminds me ever so slightly of Calculation Theme but even that connection seems tenuous.

On this album Emily plays piano and sings – that is basically the deal here. There are also other musicians involved of course, drawn from the firmament of Canadian talent that currently seems almost unstoppable, but this is a very personal recording and it is hard to reconcile this album with her Metric persona. Released by Last Gang Records, it is presented in a quite splendid digipack including full lyrics. My current favourite tracks are 'Crowd Surf Off A Cliff', 'The Lottery', and 'Reading In Bed' but that could well change with repeated listening.

It is difficult still to see how this album fits in, until you delve in to the background of both band and artist, when some of it really starts to make sense - particularly if you can find a copy of her 1996 release "Cut In Half And Also Double".

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Looking Forward to Listening to...

There are now several albums due for imminent release that I really want to listen to but, far more than any other, it is 'Back To Black' that I want to hear and it is reckoned to be even better than her début. That the first single, Rehab, from the forthcoming album, which is released on 30th October, entered the UK singles chart today at #27 on download alone is rather promising but ever since she released Frank, back in 2003, I have believed that Amy Winehouse was a star simply awaiting her place and time. I reviewed Frank back then, and I still stand by everything that I wrote almost three years ago, so here are my comments newly retrieved from amazon.co.uk!

10 of 15 people found the following review helpful:

***** I'm wasting my time. You can only listen..., 4 Nov 2003

I wouldn’t have thought this album to be my kind of music at all. I was intrigued by the reviews I had read in the press and so I bought it anyway. I was disappointed; but only by what I had read, not what I heard.

One of my favourite tracks, ‘Cherry’, is not even on the sleeve play-list.
Tacked on after ‘You Sent Me Flying’, it is short, sweet and devastatingly brutal. Comparing a love to her new guitar, Amy sings...

“Maybe we could talk ‘bout things
If you were made of wood and strings.”

No one gets off lightly on this album - she doesn’t spare herself on ‘What Is It About Men?’ and ‘Amy, Amy, Amy’. The lyrics are thoroughly modern; the music is a stunning blend of jazz, blues and things… Somehow it doesn’t seem false or contrived as she can make it all sing, and then some.

This album will surprise you: and keep listening beyond the Outro as there are a couple of bonus tracks there.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Is This The Price We Pay For Progress?

It is a good question, never more relevant that at the moment. One thing that is quite certain is that South Yorkshire has been providing a very diverse and persuasive soundtrack recently. No sooner had the Kaiser Chiefs highlighted the slightly less salubrious side of Leeds than the Arctic Monkeys served up a fine riposte from Sheffield replete with the hazards of a night out on their town!

Leeds soon replied, on a completely different front, with the very different but equally successful sounds of Corinne Bailey Rae. Maybe Sheffield has retaliated and I simply haven’t heard about it but it is certain that Leeds has struck again!

It is rock, but not remotely like the zeitgeist tendencies of the above bands. The album Progress.Reform is quite different to any of the above and consisting of just seven tracks it might even be regarded as an EP but I see good reasons to not to do so - just for a start the subject matter is often erudite, eccentric and a world away from the modern, even if the music isn’t.
The first track, Terra Nova, is about Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1911-12 and the third track, Rook House For Bobby, is about the descent into isolation and eventual madness of chess player Bobby Fisher. This is not normal subject matter on any album and what is more they have a liking for using genuinely old recording equipment and performing live, shrouded in steam and wearing BR uniforms from circa 1960! Stainless Steel is rather different to the tracks that have come before: it starts gently, with a plucked guitar, but gradually builds – and there is more than 8¼ minutes of it in which to do this – into a rock epic of surprising proportions.

While there is, as such, no title track to this album its alter ego duly arrives at the very end and it is sung in the first person supported by a rather surprising indie backing 'choir': this song is The Beeching Report - the band is iLiKETRAiNS.

For those that like the slightly offbeat, eccentric even, this album comes highly recommended.