It didn’t seem like it was all that long ago that I was wowed out of my seat by diminutive Welsh singer Duffy. Her retro-pop jubilee known as Rockferry was my favourite album of 2008 and her intonations instantly tagged me out of my wine-induced stupor and into a sense of pure bliss.
It was, after all, that fucking voice.
Endlessly is the follow-up to Rockferry and that fucking voice is back, but the arrangements appear to be slipping and there’s a little bit of uncertainty wafting over the whole affair. That is kind of a good thing, at least in this case, as it demonstrates Duffy’s capacity for moving beyond the honour and into shaky, self-defining soil.
See, Rockferry‘s glory was in its sense of respect for those who walked before. Comparisons to the likes of Dusty Springfield flew ’round, even from my typing lips, and the little Welsh thing cutely smiled through it all. Somewhere inside, though, lurked a roaring beast waiting to carve its own name into the wall.
Endlessly is that beast; it is a full-on attempt to make a mark in an industry that very well may have already moved beyond retro-soul and into other Gaga-related territory.
Some music may get old, sure, but a fucking voice is still a fucking voice and Duffy can’t chase hers away. Endlessly slips her into a number of different scenarios and not all of them work, but the ride is okay because her fragile, dusty tones are still moving through the material.
“Well, Well, Well” is an interesting number, to say the least. Its horns evoke elements of that sweet, sweet retro and the song’s textured bounce is intoxicating, but the mixing and the rush of it all is a little off. The production leaves a lot to be desired and I kind of wish Duffy would have just sang it straight out without the ruckus. Pairing with The Roots was a compelling call, but the effort stumbles.
That sort of fussy approach infects a number of the pieces. “My Boy” is a weird opener, getting underway with something out of a Kylie Minogue track and never really taking flight on its own. And “Keeping My Baby” unsuccessfully mops up Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach.”
The record fortunately carries a number of good points. The Rockferry soul makes an appearance with the sweeping, lush and gorgeous “Too Hurt to Dance.” Duffy’s ability to carry tender tones over broad strings is one of her most significant strengths. Her enunciation is as elegant as ever, too, and the quiver in her voice takes on special meaning as she assumes the art of the lonely girl with full commitment.
The stripped title track is another highlight. It is an intimate number, off-setting the largeness of the rest of the record with a quiet, candlelit quality.
Overall, though, Endlessly is a bit of a disappointment. The fucking voice is still game, but the compositions and arrangements leave a lot to be desired. I’m glad Duffy is finding herself in the music and expanding her horizons, but her delicate flower of a voice, big as it can be at times, is better suited to smaller, tighter spaces.
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