Since the first thing that comes to mind about New York during the roaring 1920's is dubstep, Autotune, and, of course, Andre 3000 and Beyonce, the producers of the new The Great Gatsby movie have forced this little ditty upon us from the upcoming soundtrack.
Bey and Andre's collaboration on Amy Winehouse's throwback tune may very well have produced the worst song that's ever been released, cover or otherwise. I have nothing nice to say about it. Oh, yes, I mean that. I mean that very much. It's just a mess. A huge, sandpaper-to-the-Eustachian-tubes mess.
If you'd like to hear two extremely famous and otherwise generally talented artists rip "Back to Black" to shreds, please see below.
Mind you, I'm not saying the song is horseshit because I'm a Winehouse purist; I'm saying that because it's frickin' true. From Andre's burpy, dub-stepped mess of lyrics to Beyonce's overly breathy, loud, and unnecessarily dramatic vocalization, the entire thing is appalling. I flat-out hate this song. It sucks, and hard.
The duo chopped, screwed, and digitalized the hell out of what had been Winehouse's smoldering, longingly painful ballad, rendering it essentially unrecognizable. It's a train wreck of artistic liberties, none of which were well thought-out. It is an over-produced, rhinestone-and-cheap perfume gutter-tramp version of the original.
And listen, I expected a certain amount of artistic liberty. It wouldn't be a Bey track if she didn't throw in her own style, and Andre, for his part, is equally famous for his well-timed risks. But whatever the hell this is, it's not Beyonce or Amy or even Andre's style.
A chopping, heaving, overabundance of Autotune is not a style, it is a cop-out. And if these were intentional risks, they were grossly miscalculated. I'm not even sure either artist tried to do anything other than recite Winehouse's lyrics -- which, may I add, are unrecognizable for the most part during that robot hell of an intro.
The reason this song (in its original form, anyway) was so amazing was because it was solid and soul-baring. It captivated the audience with the ability to pull these huge emotional reactions, all hinged upon the strength of Winehouse's voice, a simple melodic arrangement, and a whole lot of inner turmoil.
The hybrid Beyonce/Andre version is also an emotional grab. I mean, it definitely evokes a reaction from the audience; I'm just not sure the emotion they were looking for was disdain. The thundering emotion of Winehouse's complicated, oft-lonely existence has been replaced with one-trick ponies, sticky carnival rides, and grandiose grabs for attention. There's nothing authentic about the effort.
What's more annoying is that in theory, Beyonce should have been able to swing this cover. There's no doubt about her abilities; she's got enormous vocals, huge stage presence, and fuck, she's from Houston. It should have been a no-brainer.
Unfortunately, her choice of breathy, slow-as-molasses vocals aren't something that breathe into the song a new life; they just slowly suffocate the redeeming qualities that may have been there to begin with on this cover. It doesn't work, not one bit.
And Andre. I mean, dude. I like his other work. I don't think he needed to use a hefty layering of Autotune and then proceed to chop the hell out of his vocals; if you've heard anything else he's done, he's got a decent voice. So why, in the name of all that is holy, did he decide that this was the route to take things?
Oh, and to whomever produced this; the last thing I think of when I think about Winehouse's breakout hit is Andre 3000 singing the lyrics, "I kept my dick wet." Those lyrics didn't want to make me gag in the original, but now they make me utter noises eerily similar to Andre's intro sequence. Thanks for that.
And just for the record, I'm not alone in my irritation with this song. Mitch Winehouse, Amy's outspoken but dead-on father, had this to say about the track:
"I just heard the Andre part of 'Back to Black.' Terrible. He should have let Beyoncé do it all."
I'm right there with ya, Mitch. I suppose we're both pouring one out for that song at the moment.
I'm going to leave you with Mitch's words. And in order to cleanse your ears, above is a video of Amy Winehouse showing you how a cover should be done. You're welcome.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.