A little earlier this year, we ran an article about the things we felt were wrong with indie music in 2011. One of the points we mentioned was that a lot of music (indie or otherwise) has become a sort of endless spin cycle of recurring trends that come around in metronomic 20-year phases. We stand behind this observation, but in retrospect, we feel we could have argued the point a wee bit better (as Simon Reynolds does in his must-read book, Retromania) — we don’t mean to imply that all bands who take their cues from the past are terrible, because there’s clearly a fine line between inspiration and pastiche, and there are many excellent bands who fall on the right side of that line. With the release of Amy Winehouse’s posthumous compilation this week, we thought we’d look back at her career, and also some other fine throwback artists who’ve adorned the last decade.
It still seems awfully sad and mildly surreal to be writing of Amy Winehouse in the past tense. But even though her career was far, far too short, it was still important. She wasn’t the first neo-soul artist, of course, nor even perhaps the most influential. But she was by far the most charismatic and publicly recognizable. Back to Black might have been played to death, but it remains a startling piece of work — Mark Ronson’s Motown-influenced tracks were certainly slick and well-executed, but would ultimately have been lightweight were it not for Winehouse’s ultra-modern lyrics, which were alternately bleak, brutally honest, and hilarious (and occasionally all three at once). And, of course, her remarkable voice. RIP.
Why she mattered: She didn’t invent neo-soul, but she came to epitomize it — and quite possibly also introduced a whole new generation to the sounds of Motown.