by Duffy

2008 wasn’t a bad year for Welsh dynamo Duffy. She released her debut album Rockferry; not only did it enter the UK charts at number one, but it also went on to be the biggest selling album of the year. Duffy had arrived.

boom - Duffy Endlessly album image

Since then she’s been on her bike (sponsored by Diet Coke), cycling all the way to the bank, with all the moolah she’s made from sponsorship deals. Sold out? Duffy? Probably.

No doubt slightly bored from rolling around in money all day (notes only, naturally) Aimeé Duffy has popped into the studio to record her second album.

The most immediate thing of note with Endlessly is Duffy’s apparent identity crisis. Rockferry has clearly put her in the box labelled ‘Soul’, but here she’s a little confused as to what she should be singing.

Just as the album starts, you’re greeted with faux cheering as if to create a live vibe on the track ‘My Boy’. It’s probably acting as some kind of exclamation: “Yay, Duffy’s back and I feel like cheering, right here at the start of this studio track!”. It’s a shame as it’s a great up tempo song tainted by a terrible ‘recorded in front of a live studio audience’ gimmick.

It’s not long into ‘Too Hurt to Dance’ that you realise that Duffy has played the soul card fairly early. A ballad with a siren-like fifties vocal from the singer, supported by the softest of strings, that floats effortlessly by.

‘Keeping my baby’ has the kind of production that sounds like Bond Composer John Barry has been tinkering with. It would make an assured audition piece if she ever wanted to throw her hat into the ring for any possible future Bond themes, that’s for sure.

Endlessly’s possible ‘Mercy’ beater is the first single ‘Well, Well, Well’. Despite Duffy’s vocals sounding a tad on the squeaky side, it’s about as infectious as the common cold, and just as hard to get out of your head. It’s a punchy piece of pop that whizzes by in a flash. It’s destined for Karaoke success, that’s for sure. Although you may not want to be in the same room as someone singing it.

Just as you’re getting comfy with something modern, Duffy goes back in time for yet another retro ballad. ‘Don’t forsake Me’ is pretty enough, but there’s very little to distinguish it from any of her other sloppy tunes. It’s beginning to feel like ballads-by-numbers.

And if you’re the type of person to get annoyed by the fake audience noise at the start of the album, be prepared for the album’s eponymous track, which begins with a needle gliding through a record groove. That’s right, Duffy’s songs are so authentic that they come with built-in vinyl hiss. You’d expect these kinds of gimmicks from Robson and Jerome, but Duffy?

What’s next? Oh another ballad that sounds like it’s from the olden days. ‘Breath Away’ is actually one of the more superior retro retakes, but it’s difficult not to feel a little jaded by this point.

Suddenly, Duffy brings us back into 2010 with the quirky funky number ‘Lovestruck’. Maybe it’s the hip nod to disco accompanied by even more strings, but Duffy reminds us that she’s not just some semi-tribute act.

It’s retro again with ‘Girl’, but it’s more swingin’ Sixties this time. It’s fluffy, inoffensive pop.

An intro with strings doused in heartache can only mean one thing, ‘Hard for the Heart’ is yet another ballad. Despite the orchestral backing, this one manages to stand on its own two feet on its own merit. There’s a bit more emotion in Duffy’s voice too, that sounds less manufactured than it does elsewhere. If anything, it has a touch of the chilled Morcheeba about it, which can only be a good thing.

It would be one hell of a surprise if this isn’t voted Radio 2’s album of the year. And that’s not the dig that it sounds like. Well, actually, it is a little bit.

From a technical perspective, it’s difficult to fault Endlessly. Duffy proves yet again she has a strong voice, albeit one that might not be quite as versatile as she thinks. But for someone with a great ’soul’ voice, it’s exactly that the album lacks.

Also, with the average time for tracks being three minutes in length, the album often feels like a showcase to a great album, as opposed to being a great album itself. An advert for greater things to come perhaps? We’ll see.

Someone needs to sit her down at some point and just ask her what style of songs she wants to sing. As it stands, it’s as if she were allowed to have a few tracks that sounded vaguely contemporary, as long as she had a handful of songs with a retro flavour. Endlessly has the grubby fingerprints of Duffy’s record company all over it, as they seemingly decide what’s best for the singer in the early part of her career. The problem is, audiences as well as Duffy herself might tire of the music persona that seems to be attached to her. Yes she can do soul, but given the chance, she can actually do a little bit more than that.

As so often is the case though, commerce often wins over talent. Duffy is now as much an established brand as she is an artist. This album cleverly cements her position as both, but what it may lack is integrity. It doesn’t necessarily fail as an album, but it does little to truly excite.

Fans of short ‘n’ snappy tunes though, will be in their element. And whilst they listening to it, perhaps they might also be tempted by a chilled bottle of diet loveliness, available in all good stores...

three out of five