I haven’t figured out if the reason why I’m enjoying the recent influx of white soul singers so much is because they strike a chord with an earlier time and I’m comforted with that familiarity. Or perhaps it’s because I’m burned out on the excessive polish and immaculate production that has permeated nearly every facet of recorded music, not just soul music, and anything remotely organic or harking back to an age when there wasn’t devices that could fucking correct your flubbed notes is now downright appealing.
Lacking the God-given talent of Amy Winehouse or the emotional frailty of Chan Marshall, Duffy makes her own entrance into the female soul arena with Rockferry, her debut that possesses just enough grit to cater to retropolitans and enough panache to appeal to young urban hipsters. Cutting through the clutter one finds an enjoyable offering that will probably owe just as much to timing to its success as its material.
But I won’t be making any “best soul album in so many years” statements for this album as this site has done before. No, there is a big difference in Duffy and Winehouse. While both may possess the appropriate record collections, it’s Duffy that’s lacking in that real world heartbreak that sends her material to your own heart.
A lot of this is due to Duffy’s apparent youth. The absence from those trials of life make every “baby spend your time with me” statement sounds cribbed from the lyric sheets of her parent’s lps instead of personal experience.
Then there’s the matter of production. Bernard Butler slops so much coordinated strings on Rockferry‘s backside that it fits snuggly in the third row of a Honda Odyssey minivan. And since we’re shuffling through to Mom’s cd collection in the armrest, lets put Rockferry next to Petula Clark‘s Memphis instead of Dusty Springfield‘s In Memphis.
All of this nitpicking won’t matter to those minivan drivers and this is probably getting huge spins at hip urban retail outlets that hire pricey music consultants to make sure the speakers are pumping the shit that makes you go “Who is this playing?” through the speakers. The clerks don’t know, and without drug-addled headlines and tabloid stumbling blocks to aid the record company’s marketing strategy, Duffy is prime to become another forgettable Joss Stone once the honeymoon is over.
Too bad, because there are moments in Rockferry where Duffy shows enormous talent. “Mercy” lays out the same type of grit that made Winehouse so noteworthy: neo-soul grooves with Supreme-ly “yeah yeah yeah” backing vocals underneath Duffy’s refreshing update of Motown-via-London. A few more of these and we wouldn’t so alarmed by Winehouse’s increasingly wasted talents because we’d have another awesome facsimile waiting in the wings.
But instead, we have a carpetbagger, and one that’s in need of a few stiff drinks to really let things loose. Hopefully that firewater will put some courage in Duffy so that she may pink-slip those who are now holding her back and softening her rough edges. We may indeed have room for another British soul sensation, but we’re still in desperate need of more sensations with some soul.
Video: Duffy – “Stepping Stone”
Video: Duffy – “Mercy”