Why the best album of the 21st century is Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black

Quietly beautiful and earthily funny, Back to Black’s ebullient music transformed pop – and will be revered for decades to come

Back to Black came out of nowhere – in a sense. Of course, Amy Winehouse had already released her debut album, 2003’s Frank, but, her voice aside, it sounded more or less like the work of a different artist. Frank was part of a wave of jazz-influenced MOR albums that hit big in the early 2000s. A little braver and moodier than the Michael Parkinson-approved likes of Jamie Cullum, Katie Melua or Michael Bublé, but not so different from Norah Jones or any of the artists that followed in the wake of her 27m-selling album Come Away With Me: a bit of jazz, a bit of neo-soul, a touch of hip-hop about the beats.

The songs on Frank were buffed up by professional writers-for-hire; the woman who sang them signed to 19 Management by Simon Fuller, manager of the Spice Girls and mastermind behind Pop Idol and its umpteen spin-offs. It was advertised in the pages of Living Etc, as if the aural equivalent of soft furnishings, something tasteful and unobtrusive with which to embellish your living room. Winehouse hated it, or so she kept telling interviewers. “I don’t have it in my house,” she informed the Guardian a few months after its release. The best she could manage by way of talking it up was to grudgingly suggest “it isn’t shit”.

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Author: Alexis Petridis