Two decades on, Frank remains a compelling debut, showcasing Winehouse's unmistakeable talent, before the drama took centre-stage...
Released twenty years ago today, Amy Winehouse’s Frank, is a staggeringly assured debut, accessible yet uncompromising, subtle yet powerful, demonstrating attitude, command, and a preternatural talent way beyond her 19 years.
Initially released with little fanfare, Frank received generally positive reviews, but was far from a sensation, taking four months to dent the top twenty of the UK album chart. Still, the album earned Winehouse an Ivor Novello Award, as well as nominations for two Brit Awards and the Mercury Music Prize, and featured at #57 on The Guardian’s 100 Best Albums of the 21st Century.
Where follow-up Back To Black took its cues from the broken-hearted girl groups of the 60s, Frank is characterised by the fusion of the jazz influences of Winehouse’s youth – Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday – and the production talents of Salaam Remi, best known for his collaborations with hip hop artists such as Nas and The Fugees. The result, according to the Guardian, sits somewhere between Nina Simone and Erykah Badu, at once innocent and sleazy.
Lyrically, it is hard to believe that Winehouse was just 19 at the time of recording. Partly because her sultry voice evokes the image of smoky jazz bars and aging crooners, but mainly because Frank’s bold, bittersweet and unflinching social observations, and reflections on sex and love, speak to the wisdom of someone who has already lived it all. Later in her career, Winehouse’s lyrics would become morose and soaked in tragic romanticism, but on Frank she’s still just a relatable 19-year-old, making music purely for herself, getting things off her chest, and having the time of her life in the process.
Frank was not without its detractors. Pitchfork, in particular, issued a scathing commentary criticising Winehouse for clinging too closely to her idols, while more recent reviews have alleged cultural appropriation and questioned the lyrical toxicity of album opener Stronger Than Me. Amy herself was widely reported as being less than thrilled with Frank, lamenting a loss of control over both the creation and the marketing of the album. Despite all of this, there can be no denying that Amy Winehouse was a once in a lifetime talent, and Frank catapulted her into the limelight, garnering both fame and drama for which she was not prepared, and that would ultimately lead to her demise.