There’s nothing obviously offensive about the music of Aim�e Anne Duffy. Sure, it’s a little shrill sometimes, and the ’60s affectations can become wearying, but her six million-selling debut Rockferry was a solidly-composed piece of retro-pop. Nonetheless, by committing the cardinal sin of making vanilla-flavoured music that also happened to be hugely popular, Duffy became – like Dido and James Blunt before her – a recording artist whose name became a byword for mediocrity.
Perhaps Duffy is aware of her public image, because Rockferry’s follow-up Endlessly displays a willingness to move her sound away from the middle of the road. (Not that one would think so from Endlessly’s cover shot, which looks like it ought to be adorning the latest Littlewoods catalogue.) That’s not to say Duffy’s gone and made a dubstep record: any experimentation is limited to some more contemporary production touches and hints of (relative) aggression on the album’s uptempo tracks.
The results are mixed. First single Well, Well, Well is an enticing collaboration with The Roots, but the US hip-hop outfit fail to apply their loose-limbed sound to any useful degree and Duffy simply can’t pull off the song’s sassy tone. The half-rapping at the start of Lovestruck proves a similarly ill fit for the singer’s high-pitched, tremulous tones, while a nadir is reached on Keeping My Baby – a Papa Don’t Preach-esque pregnancy melodrama from which no-one emerges with any credit.
Opener My Boy is the best of the ‘new Duffy’: it has a strange, elliptical melody and a satisfying retro-futurist disco vibe. On the whole, though, Duffy’s vocal talents remain best allied with the Radio 2-compatible balladry that’s exhibited here on the waltz-time Too Hurt To Dance, the smouldering Hard For The Heart and the yearning tearjerker Don’t Forsake Me.
Although both artists share a reverence for music created before they were born, Duffy’s music still feels inauthentic in a way that Amy Winehouse‘s doesn’t. There are still a few too many unnecessary ersatz touches like the vinyl crackle overdubs found on Endlessly’s title track. As a result, a Duffy song can feel like the musical equivalent of an episode of the now-defunct ITV drama Heartbeat.
Ultimately, Endlessly is like many successors to huge-selling albums: the attempts to break with the artist’s trademark sound are tentative, and the result is a record that hedges its bets to only limited success.