Vol. 4: Frank, Amy Winehouse


Amy Winehouse

Amy, Amy, Amy… born to blossom, bloom to perish, sleep to wake again. Drake says you can’t bring the future back, but when Winehouse asks of herself in 2003’s Frank “Where’s my moral parallel?” she defied that theory. Back to Black was the fateful answer –– the artistic masterpiece, and beautiful disaster –– but as it preceded the U.S. release of Winehouse’s true debut, pre-“Rehab Frank became the answer to its own question.

Like Darren Aronofsky‘s Requiem for a Dream, Frank and BtB ebb and flow like the seasons to weave a brilliantly authentic tale of that innate human drive for the unknown ideal. Frank is the Spring. Winehouse, at 19, brought a classic newness to the 2003 London music scene. Yet, the album is unforgettable because of its timelessness. Frank remained, in 2007, that fresh lifeline to American music years later. It was the artistic renaissance resonating the rejuvenation after the Winter-esque BtB.

The sound: Amy Winehouse has a gift, she is able to live her music; her vocals don’t merely ride along with the instruments, they reside within them. “Intro” and “Stronger Than Me” sound like a jazz club, The Blue Note. The lyrics and acoustics don’t sound, but rather feel. As she moves into “You Sent Me Flying,” one can’t help but think of SWV at a speakeasy. Winehouse nails the early 90’s R&B vibe, while holding fast to her signature old soul style. “Flying” segues into “Cherry,” think Brownstone opening for Brubeck –– versatility. Never have I heard such a mellow assault as I have on “In My Bed;” It takes Nas‘ “Made You Looksample, and where the sound effects step back, Amy steps up and sounds off. Winehouse runs the gamut. Yet even with the distinct sounds of blues, soul, jazz, R&B, bossa nova, hip-hop, and lounge, she keeps the sum of the parts static and consistent. “Know You Now” and “(There is) No Greater Love” cover might best encompass the duality of sound and sentiment: contemporary yet classic, simple yet deeply soulful, authentic and personal, yet atmospheric and enigmatic. Every aspect of the album is a sonic seasonal soundtrack, reflecting cycles and transitions –– both natural and human.

The story: The 19-year old’s debut reads like a diary, in the same way Aaliyah‘s Age Ain’t Nothin’ but a Number did –– and, again, it is that timelessness, that break from assumed young naivete, which makes this album so unforgettable. Wise beyond its years, Frank reflects the innate desire for the unknown ideal. It is not necessarily the search for love, but rather that something that makes one feel complete.

The focus on the ideal is unattainable largely because the goal is intangible, thus we manifest that ideal into tangible forms. If we want love, we pursue people. If we want wealth and assumed success, we pursue money. Winehouse’s album falls into the former, while Aronofsky’s Requiem, for instance, finds its characters chasing the latter. Amy’s ongoing search takes her from lover to lover finding perfection and defections in each. From the opening “Stronger Than Me”

You should be stronger than me, You been here 7 years longer than me. Don’t you know you supposed to be the man, Not pale in comparison to who you think I am. You always wanna talk it through, I don’t care.

to her “Moody’s Mood for Love” cover,

Pretty baby you are the soul, snaps my control, Such a funny thing but everytime you’re near me, I never can behave, You give me a smile and I’m wrapped up in your magic, There’s music all around me

it plays both sides of love: the exhausted and the infatuated.

The underlying story though is Amy’s self-reflection. While she waxes poetic about many a distant lover, it is when she gets back to the core that she seems closest to attaining that elusive ideal. Like BtB, Frank sees Amy’s greatest affections held within the inanimate. It is as if she is most complete when giving life to the idle. “Cherry” sees her in absolute amour,

Her name is Cherry. We’ve just met, but already she knows me better than you… And when I’m lonely Cherry’s there, and she plays along while I sing out my blues.

Then –– whether she knows it or not –– it hits that her man is no match for Cherry, her new guitar

Maybe we could talk ’bout things, if you was made of wood and strings. You’re so thick and my patience thin. So I got me a knew best friend. With a pickup that puts you to shame, and Cherry is her name. You might think I’ve gone too far, I’m talking ’bout my new guitar.

Amy Winehouse lives her music. Cherry is as much her best friend, as it is an extension of herself. It is inanimate, and so is she –– detached, lifeless, dependent on whomever it is picks her up to play –– until they connect and create music, and breathe life back into the mainstream. Amy asks “What Is It About Men?” and if “Cherry” is any indication, it is that where her guitar gives Amy life, her men take it away. “Maybe we could talk ’bout things, if you was made of wood and strings…”

Winehouse is but a Geppetto forever reaching for her Pinocchio, while she’s got Cherry forever in the palm of her hand. Then in the midst of a sonic stroll through a season in the life of Amy Winehouse –– right at the crest of your delve into her mindset and psyche –– an emcee ushers you out. The outro comes to remind you that for all of the emotion and authenticity, Frank was just a show. For the musician who lives her art though, that stage is Winehouse’s world. After Frank she retires and fades backstage to black, only to rise with the curtain again to introduce an Amy stronger than the former version of herself –– so goes the eternal ebb and flow of the truest artist’s finest show.

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The So What: Frank is an amazing illustration of the beginning, the end, and how they are both contextual parallels. “October Song” is a masterpiece; it is a piece of art that needs no external interpretation because it is complete in and of itself. Preface: Frank‘s overseas lapse turned BtB into a bridge between two Amys –– a cause and effect, past and future, ego and moral parallel –– that are one in the same. Frank serves as the Summer before the Fall into BtB‘s Winter, and the Spring rebirth:

Today my bird flew away
gone to find her big blue jay
Starlight before she took flight
I sung a lullaby of bird land every night
sung for my Ava everynight

Ava was the morning, now she’s gone
she’s reborn like Sarah Vaughan
In the sanctuary she has found
birds surround her sweet soun
and Ava flies in paradise

With dread I woke in my bed
to shooting pains up in my head
Lovebird, my beautiful bird
Spoken ’til one day she couldn’t be heard
she just stopped singing

Ava was the morning, now she’s gone
she’s reborn like Sarah Vaughan
In the sanctuary she has found
birds surround her sweet sound
and Ava flies in paradise

This is the sound: Sarah Vaughan. This is the story: release and return, the chase and the wait. This is the so what: the surface, the person(a), the real: Amy; this is the substance, the soul, the ideal: Ava.

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This is Frank: unforgettable.

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