A story of tear-jerking self-destruction
When a musician dies young, it becomes hard not to see everything they created in their career as a prelude to their untimely passing. In Amy Winehouse’s case, to revisit her best-known work is to take a disturbing walk back through a life slipping off the edge. Since she died on July 23, 2011, the lyrics of the opening chorus of ‘Rehab’ have left a troubling pang, like it’s a joke that’s gone fatally wrong. As the sun set on Winehouse’s life, the bright tinkle of Mark Ronson’s handclaps set against the deep throb of The Dap Kings’ brass couldn’t offset the depth of unease at hearing Amy’s crème caramel alto sing the refrain of “They tried to make me go to rehab/I said no, no, no”.
What felt refreshingly honest and gently empowering at the time now feels almost too blackly comic to comment upon. But comment we must, as Island have issued a box-set of three DVDs and a CD of live performances spanning her career from 2004–09, which sits as a troubling tombstone.
Winehouse’s live performances were (sometimes brutal) indicators of how far she’d gone into her own personal darkness for inspiration. It’s perhaps predictable that it’s the earliest material here that makes for the less harrowing listen. Winehouse’s vocal sounds as peerless, unique and strange as ever. Songs from ‘Frank’ such as ‘Stronger Than Me’ and ‘Fuck Me Pumps’ are still strikingly pointed and occasionally hilarious (“I’m your lady/And you my lady boy”), and as for the sleek standards from The Stables session, each syllable from ‘The Lullaby Of Birdland’ and Nat King Cole’s ‘I Should Care’ are punched with the same self-referential apprehension she brought to her best performances.
Moving into the later period, we get the intimate documentary The Day She Came To Dingle and the whole concert from 2007 at Porchester Hall, London. Winehouse is now resplendent in her crowning beehive and sups on a cup of red wine. Here, ‘Some Unholy War’ gets rebuilt into a funeral-paced soul ballad and there’s some wonderful freestyling on ‘Me And Mr Jones’.
But as we shift to 2009, with admittedly beautiful versions of ‘Love Is A Losing Game’ and ‘Just Friends’, the feeling of peering over a cliff is overwhelming. Which is the problem with ‘At The BBC’. It just feels like it’s just too much too soon. For so-called easy listening this is a fraught, incredibly difficult listen.