Maybe I’m an old sober crank, my objections to “Rehab” too personal to interest recreational users. But I’ve heard too many hopeless addicts insist that love will solve their problems to get off on that sad, recycled mirage as a wholesome pop conceit. I say better to go the full Ke$ha and celebrate your blotto hijinx for the heckuvit than to hide your track marks behind your honey’s back. And to top it off, that tune’s rehabbed soul is (in its worthy, British way) kinda jive.
By contrast, “You Know I’m No Good” maps the self-sabotaging delusions of the substance abuser down to the last telltale carpet burn, striking that precise balance between self-loathing and ego overdrive. Built up from a simple rare-groove simulation and sleaze-lounge guitar, with the Dap-Kings’ horns tiptoeing and peeking around corners, “You Know I’m No Good” oozes deceit. Winehouse retches with the pangs of being caught out, that sick gut-wrench when reality reasserts itself in the person of Ghostface, whose outrage cuts through the moral fog of Winehouse’s rationalizations. (Plus, the image of Ghostdini in rolled up sleeves and a skull t-shirt does set the imagination a-reeling.)
What ultimately set Winehouse apart from the Adeles and Duffys and other quality retro U.K. birds of the moment wasn’t just the acuity of her phrasing, and not her side-career as a tabloid regular either. It was a willingness to acknowledge her demons as of her own summoning, and yet beyond her control. The blues can be a source of strength in hard times. Like so many white troublemakers before her, Winehouse has sought obliteration there instead.