Heart of darkness

<strong>Back to Black</strong>

Amy Winehouse <em>Island</em>

Popular music has always walked hand in hand with the seven deadly sins, and the current crop of drug-guzzling stars is no exception. But while Mike Skinner and Pete Doherty headed to the Priory and wrote boring songs about it, Amy Winehouse didn't get past the check-in desk.

This may have been unwise mentally, but musically it was a canny move, as it's provided her with one of the least boring records to be released all year. "Rehab", the song that opens her new album, Back to Black, is all about the failed attempts of those around her to make her seek help. "They tried to make me go to rehab, but I said no, no, no," she bellows.

Those who remember Winehouse only for hitting the charts at roughly the same time as Katie Melua and Natasha Bedingfield might well wonder what she's been doing getting herself into such a state. In fact, she was always a world apart from the kind of female singer for whom exploring the dark heart of creativity means buying a peasant skirt from River Island. She's a heavily tattooed, 23-year-old north Londoner with fluctuating weight, a penchant for drink and a vivid sexuality, and a voice that clearly owes a debt to the childhood she spent listening to her daddy's jazz records.

That abortive trip to the Priory sets the tone for an album full of late nights and even later mornings. A fantasy about getting with the rapper Nas is the apparent inspiration behind "Me and Mr Jones (Fuckery)". "You Know I'm No Good" is about being a troublesome type, and "Love Is a Losing Game" is self-explanatory, though not predictable. The gluttony theme even extends to rhyming "bitter" with "chips and pitta", a couplet that Lily Allen would kill for. Back to Black reveals a darkness that would surely make Winehouse's daddy proud.