Album Reviews

Frequency Archive: Duffy sacrifices soul for synth

When Welsh chanteuse Duffy burst onto the international music scene in 2008 with Rockferry, her musical potential seemed unlimited. The album sold over six million copies worldwide, making her the new queen of the soul funk revival. Her second album, Endlessly, was eagerly awaited, and ultimately disappointing. Critics and fans searched for the unique sound that catapulted the singer to world fame – and were left wanting. While Rockferry offered the listener a sense of expansive movement, a rich emotional landscape, Endlessly confines us to a disco hallucination in a cloyingly quaint tea shop.

Rockferry songs like “Warwick Avenue” and “Stepping Stone” were grounded in gritty emotion, brought to life with arresting vocals blending the sultry softness of Norah Jones and the rough tones of Amy Winehouse. The arrangements focused on a cohesive neo-soul sound – lethargic piano caresses, gentle percussion, and that exquisite voice from another era.

In Endlessly, that coherency is lost. The songs attempt to be too much at once, abandoning the straightforward funky flavor of Rockferry tunes like “Hanging On Too Long” and hit single “Mercy” for a confused, kitschy disaster of clashing influences.

Synthesizers and beats run rampant over “My Boy” and “Lovestruck.” The tracks drift like garish balloons in a pop bubblegum sky, unanchored by lyrics of any apparent weight. The brass touches on “Well, Well, Well” bring a strong R&B vibe, but struggle against the rest of the track’s overproduced chaos.

Most tragically, the songstress’s signature vocals have undergone an unpleasant transformation. Lost is the perfect balance of fluttering, ethereal high notes and smoky depths. In striving for a clichéd retro pop sound, she squeezes her remarkable voice into a pitchy, grating mockery of its former style.

In “Too Hurt To Dance,” Duffy comes perhaps closest to the spare, evocative feeling of the last album. She sings, “Please, Mr. DJ, won’t you turn the music down, why can’t you understand, I’m too hurt to dance, tonight.”

Duffy, I don’t want you feeling hurt. But I wouldn’t mind if you left that dance club altogether, went back to your studio, and recorded another melancholy-tinged, introspective album like Rockferry. The music industry has no shortage of dance queens. By following in the footsteps of Cascada, Lady Gaga, La Roux, and Ke$ha, you’ve lost your own sound. Please return to doing what you do best.

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