It's tempting to chalk up the popularity of singer Amy Winehouse to her headline-grabbing bent for self-destruction, writes Sasha Frere-Jones in the New Yorker. But that would be a mistake. He takes a closer look at Back to Black, with its "perfect" single "Rehab," and finds much to treasure. What might initially come off as mere imitation of classic soul and R&B is actually a novel evolution, he argues.
A tip-top band and an eagerness to mine rewarding veins of African-American music set Winehouse apart from other contemporary R&B artists, but her real (and really weird) asset is her voice. In a major progression from past albums (Frere-Jones ditched 2004's Frank in an airport trash can), Winehouse's singing on Back to Black defies categorization—and sometimes understanding. “This mush-mouthed approach is Winehouse’s real innovation," he declares.