Yesterday I was playing this album in my car, and about a third of the way through opening track “Rockferry,” passenger Fandon the Fun Marshall called it exactly right–“She should do the next James Bond theme song.”
Duffy’s voice is quite good but not amazing, and wisely, she doesn’t try to prove otherwise. She understands her limits and works within them, applying grace and subtlety to the notes in her range. Even on the money shot, the gorgeous album-closer “Distant Dreamer,” she sings it like it is. The vocal is a valiant act of restraint in a string-laden environment that is almost begging for someone to take it over the top. She refrains, and the song sounds all the more human, and all the more wonderful, for it.
Self-awareness can be a bad thing, but not here. Duffy actually sings a song called “Syrup & Honey,” which is one of the most apt song titles I can think of. It’s clearly done with a wink, and a damned cute one at that.
At a minimum, this is a recording of a girl singing British soul songs very well. Some would call it retro; I prefer timeless. This album would have sounded great forty years ago, and it will sound great forty years from now. The production on the excellent, dance-oriented “Mercy” might clue you in, but if wasn’t for that one, you’d have a hard time figuring out when this was recorded if you had never heard it before and happened to be my passenger when I happened to be playing it in my car.
At its best, which is achieved on at least three occasions, Rockferry is terrific. I don’t know if Duffy can pull this trick off again, but I’ll be plunking my money down to find out when the next record is released.
A bad stumble after “Mercy,” the inept “Delayed Devotion,” stops me from rating this half-a-star higher. Bump it up that half-star if you skip that one. I do.
I should add that former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, apparently not content with being involved in two classic albums, was a major collaborator on Rockferry. By all means, keep being restless, Bernie.