April 7, 2007


That Winehouse Buzz? Believe It (J. Freedom du Lac, 3/13/07, Washington Post)

Booze is to Winehouse's music and public persona what sex is to R. Kelly's. Her drunken behavior has become the stuff of tabloid legend -- at least in England, where Winehouse has been a star since her 2003 debut, "Frank." (The album was never released stateside.) No story about her is complete without noting that affinity for alcohol. Not since Dean Martin has liquor been such a career gold mine. Only in her case, it's Cuervo Gold.

On "Just Friends," a jaunty ska-soul song that boils over with sexual tension, Winehouse (her real name, by the way) observes: "It's never safe for us / Not even in the evening, 'cause I've been drinking." On the bereft "Wake Up Alone," she notes a minor victory: "At least I'm not drinkin'." And then there's the video for "Back to Black's" remorseful new single, "You Know I'm No Good," in which she clutches a shot glass as if it's a safety blanket.

But Winehouse isn't just some bar singer with an easily packaged back story. She's one of the most exciting newish arrivals on the post-millennial R&B scene -- a 23-year-old artist with a knack for writing blunt, confessional relationship songs that are full of ache, attitude and humor. (Think Lily Allen with soul, or Corinne Bailey Rae with musical teeth.) On "Me and Mr. Jones," Winehouse repeatedly uses a hilarious-sounding expletive to scold a no-good man. Among his transgressions? "You made me miss the Slick Rick gig," she hisses, sounding downright indignant.

And then there are those fierce, powerhouse vocals: so raw, so deeply emotional, so real -- sort of Mary J. Blige without the chronic pitch problems, although Winehouse's tone is more reminiscent of Billie Holiday's or Shirley Bassey's. Winehouse has an exceptional voice that's even more striking when you catch a glimpse of its source: a wispy, heavily tattooed young Jewish woman with a mile-high beehive for a hairdo and a Gothic level of mascara caked onto her face. It almost doesn't compute.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 7, 2007 12:00 AM
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