The sound alone marks it as something special -- part early-sixties girl group (soaring, expansive, exuberant), part torchy chanteuse (dark, intimate, desperate). Held together by that enormous, hopelessly arresting, listen-’cos-I-gotta-say-this voice.
It’s what she says, though, that elevates the whole thing from simply distinctive to downright astonishing. I suppose Back to Black might be called a concept album. The album’s title (best explained in the song of the same name) seems to refer to that scary, sometimes inevitable-seeming move back into a self-created darkness. Most of the songs speak of solitude, self-destructive behavior, and the need for (and difficulty of finding) a friend.
“Rehab,” the album’s opener, is a terrific test for the listener -- either you get it and you proceed onward, or you don’t and you can’t. The chorus is killer, but the lines that get me are “The man said ‘Why do you think you’re here?’ / I said, ‘I got no idea.’” Elsewhere in the song she reveals a good deal more self-understanding, but as this response shows, it’s sometimes easier -- even inevitable -- to refuse to acknowledge what’s really going on.
The rest of the album follows in a similar vein. Most (if not all) of the tunes are apparently autobiographical, though I haven’t spent much effort looking into that. One track, “Love is a Losing Game,” might reasonably be added to the catalogue of “poker” songs. The song meditates on a failed, possibly destructive affair that has led the singer to conclude “love is a losing hand.” Play, if you must, but know that doing so means facing “futile odds” and most likely being “laughed at by the gods.”
Speaking of poker and music, Anthony Holden wrote a smart post on the subject a couple of weeks ago over on the new Bigger Deal blog. Any fan of good poker writing can safely add Bigger Deal to his or her list of subscriptions. Besides Holden, other regular contributors include Al Alvarez (The Biggest Game in Town), Lee Jones (Winning Low Limit Hold ’em), and Peter Alson (One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey "The Kid" Ungar w/Nolan Dalla). In the most recent post, Jones provocatively argues in favor anonymous user IDs for online poker. Check it out.
And check out Back to Black, too, if you’re up to it. (For those who haven’t and are curious, here’s a better review for you.)
Labels: *the rumble