Very rarely do I give in to fads on social media.
It might seem trivially self-righteous, but I've never - for example - uploaded a joke Facebook Profile Pic of something or someone other than me (although many photos of me from the past 11 years are bad jokes). I've avoided most unsavoury flavour-of-the-week behaviour: unnecessary name changes, shared couple profiles (ugh), and inane 'chain email' posts that we all thought died a slow death once the age of social media dawned. They just reawakened as the tagged 'challenge'.
So when I was recently tagged in one of these 'challenges' by a friend & respected South African music journalist (Tecla Ciolfi, who puts the Texx in TexxInTheCity), I was initially reluctant. The challenge? "10 album covers. 10 days. No story." The greater challenge? Not annoying my Facebook friends for 10 days straight with vague examples of my refined musical taste.
But I saw an opportunity to connect with people; to a greater story. The irony is that this particular challenge demands a lack of story - at least in a written sense. And for music nerds or fanpersons like myself (and presumably Tecla), the tendency would naturally be to put forward a cultivated, cool mix of your favourite albums. Albums that got you through a tough time. Albums that remind you of the good times. Easy pickings then.
I decided to go with a selection of albums that were portals into a new perspective. Something different from the baseline of what was pandered to me as an uninformed tween, fed on a diet of sugar-coated angst and pop-punk. Whether I continued to dive into that artist or genre (or not), I wanted to examine album-length moments where I had my prejudices challenged.
A single here or there might pique an interest, but the narrative arc and variety of an album can draw you in so much deeper. Let's go to that place:
1. Switchfoot - The Beautiful Letdown (2004)
I grew up in an evangelical Christian home. My parents were not that musically-minded, so we didn't have a large stash of records or CD's gathering dust in the lounge. So any full-length albums we did have, or were loaned, or I was exposed to, were mostly Christian worship albums.
Regardless of the individual church, the environment was by no means dreary and boring. Music was a central part of the experience, but even worship-orientated music is of a particular purpose, construction, and language. They don't call it "preaching to the choir" for nothing.
Around mid-2004, a buzz began in my youth group about this band called Switchfoot. What was strange was how preapproved this band was in the evangelical circles. "It's rock music, but they're all Christian guys". The fact that their music was not couched in "Jesus this, God that", yet still explored philosophical themes like redemption, salvation, and hope, spoke volumes to our devout ears. Plus, I fell in love with the first song I ever heard of theirs - 'Meant To Live' - because it rocked.
And then I fell in love with the next one 'This Is Your Life'. And the next one 'More Than Fine'. Their fourth album The Beautiful Letdown was anything but the name implied. It was the zenith of the band's career, and each song was a dare to move; to move outside of yourself, and your entrenched ways of seeing things.
New perspective gained: subtlety in one's faith - whatever faith or belief it may be. Switchfoot's magnum opus taught me discretion, and opened my eyes to how I could be the person I wanted to be - even if that person is constantly evolving and growing. Lead singer Jon Foreman wrote songs from his perspective, but never isolated his audience or preached to his choir. On the flipside, this later taught me to respect the music irrespective of the artist's beliefs and public persona (here's looking at you, Kanye West and Morrissey).
2. The Strokes - Room On Fire (2004)
There's something about art class where people can relax for a period, even if they are technically 'working'.
I never formally selected 'Art' in school, because most of the time it was baked into the syllabus like a misshapen mug, with little incentive to want to improve your skills or take it as a full-time subject through Senior year.
That changed in late-2004, when I embarked on a 3-month high school exchange in 10th Grade to a private school in Nashville, Tennessee. Away from home territory, I took bold temporary subject choices (because, like in 'Whose Line Is It Anyway', "everything's made up and the points don't matter").
I got to see Art from a different sort of classroom. The teacher was encouraging & light-hearted, the class was year-independent (so there were Seniors sprinkled through its ranks), and we could listen to music (quietly) on the resident boombox.
Almost all I can remember from this boombox was The Strokes.
One of the Seniors was seriously into a band that sounded like it was playing inside some echoey garage, and we were painted onto the walls. I thought it might've been a live concert. The singer was barely intelligible and sounded drunk. The rhythms captivated me. The melodies (surprisingly) wooed me. I paid special attention to the twin-guitar attack of Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond, Jr. - each presenting a different instrumental voice that somehow blended together with Julian Casablancas' degenerate drawl. I wanted in - musically, that is - to whatever these guys were having.
When I think of The Strokes' first two albums Is This It and Room On Fire, I wonder if it must be similar to falling in love with a fraternal twin: yes, they are different people - but they do share such similar genes, and on any other day......? I often toy with that infidelity. But the boombox had the CD of the latter stuck on repeat. It's why I struggle to this day with an unhealthy addiction to the new wave synth-sounding guitars of '12:51'. Oh really, your folks are away now? Alright, let's go, you convinced me.
New perspective gained: music can be gritty as gravel, and catchy at the same time. Hearing The Strokes tuned me in to dishevelled-looking guys (and sometimes girls) who populated the indie rock underground. They primed me to hear music that wasn't necessarily aimed for stadium-sized success (or reception), but for sweaty clubs and sometimes surly attitudes. Yes, this music had existed in the underground for so long, but it took bands like The Strokes, The White Stripes, and Interpol to revive the feeling & focus for mainstream teens like me.
3. U2 - Achtung Baby (2005)
For anyone growing up in the early-to-mid-2000's, U2 appeared to be very much a contemporary band. Their career comeback All That You Can't Leave Behind was widely received as a masterpiece. It appealed to both U2 fans seeking refuge from the quirky experimentation of the 90's and kids like me who digged the inclusion of 'Elevation' in the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider film. They even soundtracked the ads for the brand-spanking new iPod, for Steve's sake.
So when Bono insisted that they were "re-applying for the job of best band in the world", I certainly didn't get the joke - or how far they had ventured off the beaten path to come back to critical & commercial appreciation again.
Achtung Baby arrived on my aural doorstep with few clues, if any, as to who put it there. But I guess Prom had something to do with it.
Being a member of the Prom Committee in 11th Grade at my school had its perks. Led by our shrewd, imaginative Head Librarian, we were granted frequent access to the lounge-like back office in the library; where committee members spent many hours researching, planning, and working on decor ideas for the Seniors' biggest night of the year.
What was more lucrative, however, was the access she freely granted to the computer terminal up in the corner - presumably hers during working hours. Most of the time it was for Google Searches, Word Docs, and printing. But every so often, you'd wander into the My Music folder to see what treasure you'd find next. Someone - it could even have been from the previous year's committee - had surreptitiously started using it as a hiding place for their own song stash. Because surely this wasn't the eclectic music collection of a 40-something librarian? Right click-copy-paste anyway.
Like many of the folders in this clandestine collection, U2's was a minefield to scan through: random hits, b-sides, live throwaways, and a shoddy file naming structure to boot. Achtung Baby emerged fully-formed though, but its content almost led me to believe it was another band entirely.
Yes, Bono's impassioned croon was all over these avant-garde soundscapes, but the music groaned and prickled with psychedelic fervour. Songs felt loose-limbed and layered; Bono loose-lipped and lonely, with nightmarish imagery spilling out of him, brutally chronicling and examining broken relationships. Where were the feel-good anthems? Still there, amidst the mania and depression. The prayer-like 'One' and hopeful 'Ultraviolet (Light My Way)' were my guides through the darkness, revealing the core of what U2 kept as they pursued a decade of radical reinvention.
New perspective gained: keep looking backwards to understand what you're hearing now. U2's longevity as a band and continued cultural clout provided the intervention I needed: to be shaken out of this spell I was under that 'old' bands or artists weren't worth it - especially if they weren't putting out new music. Achtung Baby was just the beginning, a gateway (drug): "You like our current single? Well listen to this. And we wrote it in 1991, if you can believe it". I was now in on the joke.
4. Bloc Party - Silent Alarm (2005)
What more can I say about my favourite album and mission statement that hasn't been said already?
I suppose it could be how it was introduced to me? But even then, like many romances, it started plain and unassuming. Not necessarily love at first sight. This was more like a throbbing tumour, that grew and grew and grew....
Silent Alarm was aptly named, and aptly aimed at the youth of 2005. The indie-disco kids who wanted their rock served with their electro, and still had space on the plates for pop, R&B, and anything else that was hip (even hip hop). Bloc Party (the band in question) was the revolutionary unifier; of disparate genres, subject matter, emotions; even races (the lead singer was black and the drummer of Asian descent).
As much as it seems clear now how primed I was to like this album, it was a marked challenge back then understanding why I should be liking it. Bloc Party's music is usually classified under some umbrella term like 'indie rock', but at the time, critics and fans were referring to it as 'post-punk revival'. So wait - there was something after punk, and now that is being revived? Did 'post-punk' pass away, or just get a bit light-headed?
As mentioned earlier, the prefix to 'punk' I was most familiar with was the 'pop' one; the likes of Blink-182, Green Day, Sum 41, and Yellowcard, ruling the MTV roost with hooky choruses and snotty teenage melodrama. That could very well have been what happened 'post' punk, to my ears. But whilst pop-punk took a more radio-friendly approach in the aftermath of the late-70's 'punk movement', many bands channelled punk's aggression and ideologies into more experimental avenues; adventurously absorbing influences from electronic music to funk, jazz, and disco, and abandoning rock star tropes to earnestly espouse political causes of the day. Cerebral, complex, and coiled tight like a spring. It was punk all grown up.
This off-kilter odyssey of sound had its heyday in the 1980's, with the term 'post-punk' either falling by the wayside or bands achieving wider commercial success and being filed into a different genre as a result. It was why Bloc Party was being deemed one of its flagbearers a generation or so later: because they brought the post-punk movement into the 21st century.
Some of the singles were catchy, no doubt. The first warning sign/song I ever heard was the acerbic 'Helicopter' (thanks to a high school friend's recommendation). Based off of that, I hoped there'd be more which at least sounded like it. What I got in Silent Alarm was a sonic, emotional landscape to live & breathe in. Lead singer Kele Okereke shouted and yelped - a noticeable first for any band or artist I'd liked. It felt appropriate, given the vivid splashes of heartbreak, desperation, politicking, and ambition in his lyrics. The music moved with breakneck energy, even on the 'slower' songs (such as 'Blue Light' and 'So Here We Are'). I got carried away with it.
New perspective gained: a design for a life. I was a bright, imaginative, somewhat naive first-born child. But I was becoming a man in a strange modern world; where angst needed nuance, personal was often the political, and propaganda a far subtler danger than it was for previous generations. Silent Alarm didn't have all, or even many answers. Despite the band name, Bloc Party were not some radical cult. The album was a toolbox of thought, made for me by kindred, adolescent spirits. It was the positive tension I never knew I needed.
5. Fokofpolisiekar - As Jy Met Vuur Speel Sal Jy Brand (2005)
Fuck Off Police Car. That's what it translates to in English.
Many South Africans speak Afrikaans - a local variant of Dutch infused with words from Bantu, Khoisan, and Malay languages - as a first or second language. I was from an English-speaking home, so l took it as a second language in school, and it was a las (burden).
Growing up in South Africa, with numerous cultures and 9 official languages, you almost take for granted the level of diversity you have to interact with on a daily basis. You are expected to, by law, take one additional official language in school. People of my background (White, middle-to-upper class) usually chose Afrikaans, because it seemed easier to learn and adapt to. For some, it was because we didn't respect it: a bastardised form of English, a halfway point between the pure European Dutch and whatever it became within our borders.
This was the begrudging feeling I had for many years, until Grade 11 Afrikaans class and our teacher's decision to use songs in our gedigte (poetry) section of the syllabus. Because reading it just wasn't doing the trick.
Meneer (Mister) Oosthuizen was an upright, conservative Afrikaans man. He spoke crisp, even-toned Afrikaans, and enjoyed snappy banter with the first language speakers in my class (my penance for being in the academic 'A' class). He saw an environment where the subtle nuances and rhyme schemes of songs sung in this language could be appreciated.
The gedigte play-throughs began in earnest in his classroom. To be honest, with his on-the-fly translations and insight, some of the songs were illuminated with newfound gravitas; the likes of Laurika Rauch, Koos Kombuis, Valiant Swart, and other traditional Afrikaans singer-songwriters. But then came an artist which Meneer briefly flinched to say out loud.
The song he chose ('Sporadies Nomadies', i.e. 'Sporadically Nomadic') was relatively tame by the band's standards. But hearing him describe what "My vingers is al geel gekontempleer" meant (literally: my fingers are yellow from contemplating; real meaning: I've smoked so many cigarettes whilst thinking that my fingers are stained from them") began to elicit the respect I'd held in reserve and thought I'd never use. FPK were very new on the local scene, and challenged the generally-conservative white Afrikaans-speaking community. The fact that Meneer Oosthuizen selected one of their songs for such an exercise was incredibly forward-thinking.
Being one of the first prominent Afrikaans punk rock bands, FPK had the talent and the bravado to somehow make their band and brand acceptable to masses of English and Afrikaans speakers alike. They were nihilistic, snarky, occasionally blasphemous ("Ek's gebore met drie sesse op my kop getattoëer!"), and thought-provoking. None so was this felt as much as on their debut extended play (EP) As Jy Met Vuur Speel Sal Jy Brand ('If You Play With Fire You Will Burn'). Delightful.
FPK already had a full-length album out by the time I discovered them (Lugsteuring - 'Air Disturbance'). But as much as I loved certain songs from it - including 'Sporadies Nomadies' - I found it difficult to keep up with translating and understanding all the lyrics (I remember a nascent version of Google Translate speeding things up not long after this). 5 to 7 songs had just as much roughage. The AJMVSSJB song cycle became a regular 18-minute riff-fest, full of imagery that was soon to be relatable ("Elke oggend is ek in die hel/Ek word wakker en die vlamme brand my vel") as well as perverse ponderings ("Nes stilgebore babas huil ek nie/Oor die onregverdigheid van die lewe nie/Niemand lewe rêrig nie").
New perspective gained: the ability to appreciate lyrics in a foreign language. For native bilingual or trilingual speakers, this must seem bizarre (or saddening). Many in the English-first-language-speaking world have barely ventured into the exotic climes of another language, and appreciated what makes it tick. Certain words rhyme together in unusual ways compared to your home language; some phrases are even untranslatable. I also came to understand what an EP was: about half of what'd you expect, with each song highly valued by the artist, and rarely filler. However once I became a full-fledged albumist, it wasn't something I sought out in earnest again unless the artist was well-known.
6. Various Artists - Across The Universe (Soundtrack) (2008)
It seems inconceivable now, but up until my second year of college, I could only name two or three Beatles songs (I think they were 'Love Me Do', 'Hey Jude', and maybe 'With A Little Help From My Friends'). This Beatles blind spot - for one of the most well-known and loved musical artists in history - might've continued for quite a while longer if it weren't corrected by some 2008 musical about Jude, Lucy, Max, and a whole host of inside references to the Fab Four.
What made 'Across The Universe' work so well as a training manual for Beatles fandom was its balance of tone, and authenticity. There's a tendency for musicals to come across as forced and cheesy; over-delivering on sets and production pieces, but under-delivering on realistic dialogue, plot, and integration of the source material. In this film, character names were taken from famous 'named' songs, it was set in the turbulent late-1960's when The Beatles were in their creative prime, and the film-makers recorded a whole soundtrack sung by the actors & actresses themselves.
This faithfulness and authenticity extended to how the soundtrack was used in the film. Songs were often slower, faster, and radically different to the originals which I would later discover & devour, differentiating themselves enough to not be seen as cheap rip-offs. They truly advanced the story & solidified the lyrics of McCartney, Lennon, Harrison, and Starr in my mind. 'Across The Universe' necessitated rewatching as a fledgling Beatles fan; each time going back with new insights and clues to spot.
My transition into a Beatlemaniac was swift. Given that the whole world cared a great deal about them, it was easy to be a fan. The doors of geekery had been blown open, and I was free to research Beatle history, scrutinise meanings of lyrics, and feed my hunger with numerous other films, documentaries, tribute albums, and books. The flood of information felt as normal as it was exciting, but I've often wondered what it must be like to have grown up with their music in an organic way, soundtracking stages of one's childhood or being passed down the generations from a parent or older sibling. What effect would 'Across The Universe' have had on me then?
New perspective gained: entry points to cultural phenomenons can come from anywhere, and you don't have to feel bad about missing out for so long. Whilst it was rare that I hadn't yet been exposed to The Beatles in a significant or meaningful way, 'Across The Universe' proved to be a gentle guide into a world that was already there, waiting for me to come out to play. The songs from the soundtrack also stood out on their own, which created a tension in my still-developing fandom between the covers and the originals; something which I'd explore in 2011 over a 5-month research period and a 10,000 word blog post. The things we do for love.
7. Zebra & Giraffe - Collected Memories (2008)
Coming from a Third-World country, I grew up with a bit of a chip in my shoulder about the South African music industry and the perceived 'quality' of artists compared to those in the USA or UK. Yeah, I like them - but not as much as who I dream of seeing live or read about in prestigous music magazines.
I wasn't completely wrong; our music industry is relatively small and like anywhere, it can be difficult for musicians to make it big and make it a full-time career. But having that kind of attitude as a music fan stinks. It took 'The Knife' to cut that negativity right out.
The debut single of Zebra & Giraffe was an absolute sensation when it was first released in 2008. Dark, evocative, sexy, and slick - this music meant business. I couldn't care where it came from; I loved it unconditionally. Knowing that it was home-grown made me proudly South African. Knowing that it was the product of one guy made me intrigued.
Zebra & Giraffe - at least for their debut album Collected Memories - was essentially a one-man band; the brainchild of singer-songwriter Greg Carlin. Evoking the likes of New Order and Depeche Mode, he pieced together a vivid tapestry of sounds & experiences all on his lonesome (save for some drum parts). "You can do that?" I thought. To my mind, in order to make rock music you'd assemble your band in the studio and each person would play their part. Greg was far more resourceful than that.
'The Knife' was not some lucky fluke, and Collected Memories held many treasures within its 10-song track-list. Songs like the soaring singalong 'Arm Yourself' and the beautifully-layered 'Running Faster' captured different facets of the Z&G persona and readied Greg for a career that would yield 3 stunning albums & an esteemed status in the South African music industry. He wasn't alone for long; after the breakout success of the album, he needed band members in order to perform live and eventually write & record with. But it was still his baby, right until their dissolution in 2016.
New perspective gained: music from my home country (South Africa) can be equal to - if not better than - internationally-renowned artists. Zebra & Giraffe proved me wrong, and inspired me to be a better local music citizen; attending shows, buying albums, and supporting the community I wanted to grow. The circumstances surrounding the recording of Collected Memories also opened my eyes to other one-man bands like Tame Impala (Kevin Parker) and Nine Inch Nails (Trent Reznor), and the singular creative vision they employ to great effect.
8. Albert Hammond, Jr. - Yours To Keep (2009)
Some artists or albums are like walking into an empty clearing in a forest. Am I the only one here? Does anyone else know about this? I guess I'll stay.
In the years between 2007 and 2011, one of my favourite bands The Strokes was on hiatus, and the lack of new music during this period left me restless. I kept circling & researching their three studio albums, occasionally scanning the music news for any signs of life. I didn't stop to think what the five individuals in the band were doing.
It took hearing this beautiful song at the end of a Gossip Girl episode in 2009 (it was a different world then) to discover that rhythm guitarist Albert Hammond, Jr. actually had a solo career. I wandered into it as a result of 'Hard To Live In The City' and was pleasantly surprised by what I heard.
Whilst The Strokes took their cues from The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, and other nocturnal garage-rock pioneers, Albert drew from a different well entirely. His sunny influences went by way of Buddy Holly, the Beach Boys, and John Lennon; his voice a high-pitched nasal twang amidst crisp, pastoral indie pop-rock portraits.
Albert's 2006 debut Yours To Keep was a whimsical journey into this serene state of mind. The chugging rhythms of his main gig were still present in some of the standout tracks (such as 'In Transit' and the rippling, riveting '101'). But what captivated me most was the playfulness of the song writing and the bittersweet lyrics (the gentle, bruised delivery of "You're pretty, won't you come play with me?/This time I'll be nice" from 'Bright Young Thing' gets me every time I hear it). There are even folky moments like 'Blue Skies' which recall his famous musician father (you know, of the same name).
It all felt like this secret that perhaps I only knew. I had friends who enjoyed The Strokes. But were they big enough, committed enough fans to wade through whatever each Stroke (?) was producing in his own right? I've never been sure.
New perspective gained: pay attention to solo careers of the artists in bands you already know and love. These are the lucky bags of being a music fan: you think you know what you're getting, but it's often not the case. For artists in quite prominent bands, solo careers are sometimes a refuge from the egos of others, a shelter from the critics, or a chance to try something new in a low-stakes environment. If you've been along for the ride already, it's worth extending your trip into solo territory. You might find that empty clearing in a forest, and could share it with other people too.
9. The Notorious B.I.G. - Ready To Die (2009)
My relationship with hip-hop underwent a huge change of heart in my first year of college in 2007. But as much as I began to appreciate the genre and the deeper meanings behind some of its best songs, I still hadn't found a full-length album that justified my investment and interest like a rock album would.
Don't get me wrong; I owned quite a bit of hip-hop music. But I flicked between songs in these albums, gravitating to individual verses which satisfied my lyric-orientated mind. Kanye West and Immortal Techinque often won out in this regard, but I still wouldn't go out on a limb and say that I love & listen to The College Dropout or Revolutionary, Vol. 1 like I would others on this list.
Enter Nasir Jones (a.k.a. Nas) and Christopher Wallace (a.k.a. Biggie Smalls, or The Notorious B.I.G.). Their two ground-breaking early-90's debuts, Illmatic and Ready To Die, sat me down (and made me bob my head) for a cinematic run of slick-talking.
Choosing which album was more influential is tough, and it's a debate often proposed amongst hip-hop heads (along with the standard 'Biggie vs Tupac'). Both chronicled a life of crime and hustling to survive with uncanny focus. Both portrayed themselves as suave, intelligent young black men, with sick flows and streetwise mentalities. But Biggie took it one step further, and created a larger-than-life legend.
Biggie Smalls was an audacious lyricist and performer. Ready To Die - the only album released in his short lifetime - was full of challenging storylines & trains of thought, fearless filthy verses, show-stopping one-liners, and harrowing depictions of violence & brutality. This was a man who started recording his debut album, went back to dealing drugs when his career hung in limbo, and then returned to finish it with a clarity & finesse rarely seen ever before or since.
Take for example 'Gimme The Loot'. This tale of a robbery gone wrong would've been great based just on lyrics alone; each verse revealing different complications and intentions before the final showdown. Yet it's the delivery that seals the deal. Biggie chooses a skittish, hyper voice for one of the characters (a representation of his younger self) compared to his trademark deeper flow. The two Biggies trade lines and build tension in ways I found utterly captivating, and the sum is proven greater than its parts.
New perspective gained: hip-hop can be full-length narrative or experience, not just a few songs. Ready To Die was a collection of scenes from some explicit crime saga; a rags-to-bloodstained-riches tale probably not far removed from the real life and times of Christopher Wallace (who in 1997 succumbed to the very violence he so vividly catalogued on record). For me, this guilty pleasure helped keep a torch lit for the visceral power of storytelling in hip-hop - even if things done changed.
10. Amy Winehouse - Frank (2011)
The story of me and Amy Winehouse is one of tragic missed connections, and it's a regret I still live with to this day.
Despite the chart-topping success of her second album, 2006's Back To Black, I paid little attention to this precociously-talented singer-songwriter - mainly because of the unflattering portrayal of her in the media spotlight in her final years. I knew one or two songs ('Rehab' and perhaps 'Valerie') but otherwise Amy didn't register on my radar.
Fast-forward to the middle of July 2011. One week before her death, I decided on whim to listen to Back To Black - and I loved it. I adored it. I was finally ready for it, it seems. So what had I learnt when you like an artist's second album? You go back to the first.
So 2003's Frank was lined up for Sunday listening pleasure on the 24th of July. I was out all day on Saturday attending a wine festival, and returned home that evening to a call from my mother (of all people) asking “Did you see the news, that Amy Winehouse singer has died”. SAY WHAT?!
I was stunned. The only time I'd felt such emotion for a musician passing away unexpectedly was Michael Jackson two years prior. As a newfound fan, it was as if I'd joined the party right as it was ending - forever. The deliberate callousness and indifference I'd shown for the past few years had been turned back on me. One week of fandom couldn't erase the insensitive comments I had made when I saw her in the news, or implicitly tolerated from others.
So we (the girl I was dating at the time) cracked open one of the bottles of wine, and let our pain & tears be released through the tannins and the tunes of Amy's gorgeous debut.
We encountered a portrait of the artist as a young girl: fiery, seemingly fearless, and above all else, frank. Each song was like a torn page from a furiously-scribbled journal; unfiltered lines of truth over breezy jazz-inflected beats. Whether she was explaining away her infidelity ('I Heard Love Is Blind'), critiquing shallow girls ('Fuck Me Pumps'), describing the logistics of a messy breakup ('Take The Box'), or creatively concocting her carnal fantasies ('Amy Amy Amy'), Amy's assured yet reckless personality shone through.
Knowing the full story of what the bright, talented girl on this album was to encounter afterwards did make for some difficult listening. There were warning signs all along, but the frankness continued unabated - even as the tales became darker, and the stakes that much higher. I might have failed her in her life, but in her death, I vowed to become a faithful fan.
New perspective gained: appreciate what you've got before it's gone. The timing of Amy Winehouse's death around my own blossoming interest in her music was a freak occurrence, but there have been many other artists - often much older ones - who have slipped away without me noticing their talents when it really counted. As a result, I often seem to be playing catch-up in my journey as a music fan, hoping that I reach the next artist before they go into the Posthumous playlist. Don't be the confused guy when those tributes are flowing.