First Impressions: More Pop Sparkle, Less Soul From Duffy On 'Endlessly'

Monday, December 6, 2010

There is immediacy to have "Mercy" loop in your head upon hearing Duffy's name. You probably did it just now from reading the opening sentence...word association is a killer isn't it? It's a leftover hazard from 2008 as at that time it was hard to go anywhere without hearing the annoyingly infectious go-go boot stomp of "Mercy". In a twist, for Duffy, that song is probably hard for her to shake too. Coming out at the wave of the British Soul revival in the late 2000's, Duffy became an instant success with her debut, Rockferry. It contained all the classic makings of  a well-constructed debut album, with a bevy of potential hit singles, one runaway smash, and killer filler that introduce a vocalist who sounds as if she decided to go solo after doing some time with a 1960's trio of beehive sporting girl group.

So where does Endlessly, the follow-up, fit in two years later? And actually did you even know that Duffy was releasing a brand-new album? Well, here comes the teeter-tottering second album, where it either gets it right and expands from the debut, or fails to really move a mountain. From the sound of things, Duffy doesn't seem worried as this time she's working with well-known producers and writers, Albert Hammond and Stuart Price as well as has The Roots as a back-up band. So something might be good here....

Clocking in at a condensed ten tracks, Endlessly, feels a bit more spirited than the damp languishing of Rockferry. It's a little fluffier with a pop sparkle that twinkles, even when Duffy is wallowing in rejection, she still feels optimistic. Endlessly actually feels less British, and more Americanized in sound and approach. In some ways, the sinister undertone mixed with 60's mod appreciation of her debut was what was so appealing about Duffy to begin with and now is quite watered down.

Endlessly opens up with strong conviction on "My Boy". The jovial disco-tinged track (complete with crowd adoration) just screams to be a single and coasts along on a bubbly sunshine pop strum.

My Boy


Duffy is up to her old tricks as she dusts off some malt shop balladry for the title track and "Too Hurt To Dance", songs that have a classic simplicity about them and has little dust on it, but still is welcomed. "Well, Well,Well", the album's debut single, features The Roots as a support team, and with driving brass force (and repeated listens) squeaks by from being a mere clone of "Mercy".



Things do get clunky from time to time, as even an impressive brass backing for "Keeping My Baby" doesn't redeem it's triteness. The song just regurgitates what Madonna accomplished on "Papa Don't Preach", complete with strings and the line "keeping my baby" wanting to desperately belong on Madonna's 1986 hit.

Endlessly also hints at Duffy trying to break out of her 1960's sphere, as the punchy "Lovestruck" features the singer testing a slight rap in the beginning while she continues to coast along in a funky synth and symphonic beat. Personally, this was my favorite track, as it shows Duffy .  

Lovestruck


The intricate closer, "Hard For The Heart" is elegantly produced and is actually one of few tracks that shows depth and growth for Duffy and brings her back to that bare bones soul style that she's most associated with, and one that works for her the best. Less is definitely the best in this case.

Curse of the sophomore slump plagues Duffy as Endlessly  is a mixed bag of tricks at best. While there are some strong contenders for single material, not to mention tracks like "Lovestruck" and "Hard For The Heart" hint at Duffy breaking out of the 1960's soul gimmick. On the flip side, somehow the record as a whole feels as if Duffy is holding back. There are some times when you're listening, you're wondering where the "soul" really is in all of this due to it feeling all around hollow and mostly forgettable once the album is finished. There are some shimmering moments that do indeed grab you, but the "so what?" factor sort of settles in. Disappointed, I am.    

Rating: 7.5/10 
Release Date: December 7, 2010

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