Who exactly is Amy Winehouse? Is she the reincarnation of so many Jazz and R&B/Soul legends to whom she is so often compared to like Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday, and Lauren Hill? Or is she nothing more than a product of over sensationalized marketing techniques and tabloid scandals? With the belated U.S. release of her brilliant debut album Frank, Winehouse disproves both theories by not only showing she is worth the hype but that she is also a creative songwriter and vocalist in her own right.
What makes Frank so ingenious is how the album could be interpreted. It is said that this album was named after and inspired by the Chairman of the Board himself, which could be seen through the excellent fusion of hip-hop and jazz/lounge music. It is as if while listening to the LP you could get a sense of being in a hybrid time warp where you are at the Sands Casino in the early 1960s, sitting in the front row of the smoke-filled room tapping your shell toes or ACGs to the beat. But the title could have some other meaning, one being that Frank is a metaphor for a specific man or men in general. For instance, on the song “Take the Box,” Winehouse arrives at her boyfriend’s apartment to give back all the prized possessions he had given her so that she would not be reminded of the relationship that went wrong, or on “Amy, Amy, Amy” where our heroine finds herself unable to control her attractions to an unnamed gentleman.
But even deeper, this album through its superb songwriting is maybe a metaphoric description of the straightforward and honest approach in her lyrics. Take for example the lead track “Stronger Than Me,” where Winehouse tells her boyfriend to be less sensitive and be more of a man as exemplified in lines like, “Always want to talk it through/I’m okay/Always have to comfort you/Everyday/But that’s what I need you to do/Are you gay…” Another example is on the Salaam Remi produced “Made You Look” sampled “In My Bed.” Here, the artist discusses the dwindling flame of a relationship that is nothing more than sex, “The only time I hold your hand is to get the angle right…” But the best example is on “I Heard Love Is Blind” where Winehouse is so honest in her rationale for cheating that the listener is not amused by the notion of her actions, but sympathetic to her reasoning at the same time.
To be honest, there is not one bad song on this album, but there are some misguided elements present. One is the track “Fuck Me Pumps,” a terrific song that brilliantly depicts a woman in her late twenties still trying to hang in the social scene all the while battling her insecurities. The problem is that this song does not mesh well with the scheme of the album by that it does not coincide with the predominant subject matter of relationships, attraction, and heartache. Also, the song “Cherry” comes off as a demo track due to its dated sound and recording. But these miscalculations should not ruin the view of this album. In culinary terms, Frank is a prime cut that just needs to be trimmed of the little fat it has. – Ryan Harrison
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