Welsh singer’s second LP is too slight and uneven to impress unconditionally.
Paul Whitelaw 2010-11-23
By far the most successful act to have emerged from the post-Winehouse vogue for female blue-eyed soul singers, Duffy follows her BRIT and Grammy-award-winning debut, Rockferry, with Endlessly, another collection in thrall to the sounds of black American 1960s pop.
Everything about it is knowingly, lovingly retro. From the album cover, on which she looks like a sugary French Yé-Yé chanteuse, to the short running time and roughly 50/50 balance of ballads and upbeat poppers, this could be a lost curio from 1963 were it not for some tell-tale signs of modernity.
But in striving for period legitimacy, Duffy and her co-writer/producer Albert Hammond (whose many hits include The Air That I Breathe for The Hollies and his own The Free Electric Band) are too often confined by their influences: much of their material sounds authentic but insubstantial.
In its favour, the album boasts rich, crisp production values, immediately apparent on opener My Boy, one of the few songs to sound as though it emerged from the 21st century. And yet despite its squelching synths it’s essentially an update of the classic girl group sound, a template which dominates throughout the album.
Bathed in strings, the heartache ballads, Too Hurt to Dance and Don’t Forget Me, are most obviously indebted to the pre-Beatles era. Pleasingly derivative, they showcase Duffy’s distinctive voice to the best of its abilities. On the more strident material, however, her mannered Ronnie Spector-isms tend to grate: witness the mechanically catchy single, Well, Well, Well, featuring the rhythm section from The Roots.
Branching out from her 1960s haven into the unexplored futuristic mania of the 1970s, Keeping My Baby is the sort of coquettish ersatz disco latterly peddled by Kylie Minogue. Replete with vinyl crackle, the title-track is a passable variation on a soul-pop ballad written countless times before, while the simple circular melody of banally philosophical closing track, Hard for the Heart, unconsciously borrows from Coldplay’s The Scientist.
Ironically, the best song is the most throwaway. A catchy bubblegum skank featuring kitschy pizzicato strings, Girl is preferable to Duffy and Hammond’s more earnest exercises in pastiche.
Though not without its charms, Endlessly is too slight and uneven to impress unconditionally. On paper, it makes sense to align Duffy with a craftsman of Hammond’s calibre: after all, she is fundamentally a purveyor of commercial pop. But their collaboration reaps only minor rewards.