I want a girlfriend like Duffy. Blonde, feminine, with an easy laugh, vintage dresses, a kittenish voice, as sweet as Cherry Coke, with that good-girl face, but who is very, very bad when she has had a couple too many margaritas. But I’m not here to melt like ice cream on the sidewalk in the summer, but to defend tooth and nail a work that looks set to get worked over by more sceptical critics. Let’s not fool ourselves, when “Rockferry” hit the street, many whipped out their magnifying glasses to closely examine the product at the seams. Everything seemed to indicate that Duffy was a more or less prefabricated item to capitalise on the retro-pop pie that Amy Winehouse brought to the hit parade. Whether or not these fears were justified, it hit the charts, took off into the stratosphere, and left that double-edged hit single “Mercy” for posterity. Duffy is now facing a second round that looks impossible: “Rockferry” was her bit of heaven, but it could also become her very own hell.
But she has done two things that will help her separate her new songs from the apron strings of her musical debut: she has parted ways with Bernard Butler (ex-guitarist of Suede and co-producer and co-author of her first LP) and she has called up Albert Hammond and asked him to take the wheel this time. This is a good move, because you don’t have the feeling that you are listening to a routine continuation of “Rockferry”, but rather a solid, autonomous second album, with reasons enough to consider the Welsh singer to be one of the most reliable, well-established pop voices on the commercial circuit. In other words, Duffy isn’t a bluff. And she sings well. Very well.
“Endlessly” is an album that, from its delicious cover (with those plaits and that red sweater) to the last track seems to have been run through an old 60’s developing tray. Simple, and without absurd pirouettes. It is made in the old-school American soul-pop style, that is to say with a part of the album dedicated to upbeat rhythms for sunny mornings and another part for a collection of ballads like the ones that they used to play at the high-school proms in lovebird movies. It is precisely in the more intimate cuts—the ones for dancing close together, so that we understand each other—that Duffy’s voice is at its best and warmest. In “Don’t Forsake Me” she slides her laments and her sweet naiveté over a sugary-sweet piano; it is the same feeling of ballad craft that we get with “Endlessly”, another moment of kittenish whispers in a nasal tone that knock you out flatter than Obama’s neckties.
But don’t worry, we also find a response to “Mercy” in this album: it would have been suicide not to include a melodic monster comparable to the mega-hit of two years ago. From this commercial impulse is born the magnificent hit “Well, Well, Well,” an overwhelmingly vital declaration to a soul-funk rhythm, with blazing woodwinds, courtesy of the very effective Roots, the band that accompanies her on this album. The celebratory tone is also used in another of the great moments, “Keeping My Baby”, a wonderful piece of pop craftsmanship with the flavour of early disco music (those chords don’t lie) and a danceable spirit. Without being a memorable album – “Rockferry” wasn’t either, and that’s the truth– “Endlessly” works, it goes down well, offering candid music that is deliciously old-fashioned. It is a very competent second album that gives Duffy the air of credibility that many denied her in 2008. So we celebrate the immediacy and retro-melodic depth of a work that has the flavour of Don Draper ’s Old Fashioned. With Winehouse in Arkham Asylum, the female soul-pop throne has only one queen: her name is Duffy Springfield.