Album: Amy Winehouse, Amy Winehouse At The BBC (Island)
A poignant glimpse of talent that was too much to handle
Collecting together all of the BBC's radio and TV recordings of Amy Winehouse, this box set of one CD and three DVDs offers a fascinating portrait of an all-too-brief career, whose vertiginous ascent was simply too steep and sudden for her to control.
It's not as evident in the CD programme, which mingles together performances from different stages of her career; but the chronological assemblage of appearances on Jools Holland's Later... and Hootenanny shows on the first DVD tells its own story, as the generously gifted young chanteuse transforms into superstar before our eyes. As her hair sweeps up off her shoulders into that trademark beehive, so does her fortune rise; yet she tugs all the more obsessively at the hem of her dress, a tic that might be read as an attempt to regain control of her own being.
The most revealing material here, though, is the DVD of her performance at Bayswater's Porchester Hall, at the height of her success in March 2007. The audience, glimpsed in cutaways and at the edge of the stage, seems captivated to be in the presence of A-list celebrity; but Amy seems distracted by the event, drifting through a sometimes desultory performance. The emblematic song tonight is not "Rehab" but "You Know I'm No Good", an expression of languid self-knowledge trimmed of shame: but the apparent lack of concern seeps into her delivery, hinting at a deeper spiritual abandon. By the song's conclusion, it's as if she's already dispensed with it, looking sideways offstage, immune to the applause.
The erosion of control is palpable as the show progresses, though it's hard to tell whether it's due to damage or just boredom. During "I Heard Love Is Blind", her delivery deconstructs the song to a succession of vocal vectors, lines striking out randomly from the central melody, adrift in torpor. To compensate, her band is rhythmically tight throughout, but one barely spares them a glance, drawn as we are to Amy's tottering presence – as if that huge beehive perched atop her pipe-cleaner body were raising her centre of gravity beyond her control. It's a fascinating, tragic vision of a huge talent trapped in a fragile human frame.
Download: You Know I'm No Good; Love Is A Losing Game; Rehab; Valerie
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