Never mind the Year Of The Rat, 2008 is rapidly shaping up to be the Year Of The Diva. As well as Amy Winehouse‘s antics keeping the press fascinated, we’ve had Adele reaching number one with her debut album and now we have another one-name wonder – 23 year old Duffy from North Wales.
Despite the fact that she appears to have risen without trace, Rockferry has been four years in the making, ever since Rough Trade’s Jeanette Lee met her in 2004 and became her manager. A plethora of songwriters and producers have contributed to the album, including Bernard Butler, Eg White and Steve Booker. And while too many cooks may on occasion spoil the broth, that’s certainly not the case here.
Butler is behind most of the memorable moments on the album, not least the staggeringly good title track which kicks off proceedings. Creating his very own Spector-ish Wall Of Sound, Butler has expertly crafted a ’60s soundalike which recalls his work with David McAlmont. In Duffy too he seems to have found another muse – she carries the song unbelievably well, pouring drama and emotion into the lyrics, building up quite masterfully to the song’s climax. It’s also impressive how she manages to make an unremarkable town on the banks of the Mersey sound like a place of mystery and wonder.
Elsewhere, Rockferry’s style is slightly retro-sounding pop/soul, which may not sound too revolutionary, but it’s expertly done. The number one single Mercy (think Sugababes if they’d been raised on a strict diet of Northern Soul) has already introduced a new generation of young girls to the delights of singing in front of the bedroom mirror using a hairbrush for a microphone, and it’s easy to imagine any of these ten tracks following it into the Top Ten with ease.
It’s the less poppy moments that impress most though. The gorgeous Syrup And Honey is a minimal soulful ballad which shows off Duffy’s extraordinary voice to its very best advantage, while the closing Distant Dreamer manages to pour oceans of yearning and regret into four whole minutes.
Lyrically, most of the songs plough a similar path (basically, Duffy gets dumped by her boyfriend, but isn’t too bothered as she’s a strong woman and is moving on), but she throws in enough quality lines, such as the terrific “a bag of songs and a heavy heart won’t make me doubt” from Rockferry, which stick in the memory. She even gets away with things that would be ludicrous in the hands of other singers, such as the whispered “hit the beat and take it to the verse now” in Mercy.
Duffy’s songs are easy to relate to – Warwick Avenue tells the simple story of meeting an ex-lover by the titular tube station while the soaring Hanging On Too Long is a pep talk to get over a broken relationship – which go some way to identifying why she’ll be so popular. Only on occasion does she slip into blandness, such as on Serious, which is a bit too close to Gabrielle for comfort.
After only a couple of listens, Rockferry begins to feel as comfortable as a drink with an old friend. For a debut album it’s remarkably consistent and confident, and promises great things to come for the future. In this Year Of The Diva, meet its biggest star yet.