Duffy - Endlessly (2010) - A Retrospective
“Your music taste is so bad, you can’t possibly like it ironically, and I respect you for that.”
These are the words of a good friend of mine, and as my colleague, Malcolm Combe, previously wrote on this blog, there is an inherent folly in writing about music. A recent news story, though, has prompted me to go back and reflect on the work of a former favourite artist, Duffy, who recently, bravely, wrote about why she disappeared from public view, explaining that she had been drugged, abducted and raped. (The full post can be found here https://www.duffywords.com/, but honestly, I can’t really bring myself to read it in full. It is horrible).
This post then isn’t a comment on her experience, but it has prompted me to think back on what I thought of her music, why I stopped listening to her and the reason why, prior to her message, I thought she had vanished from public life. A lot of these ideas come from my experience with her 2nd album, Endlessly, an album that I’ve since revisited. Fans are supposed to try to support artists – I’m not 100% certain I did, and this is before her recent story broke, so was I a ‘bad fan’? This is the longest post we've had so far, but the exercise is one you may want to repeat for another album/artist, during lockdown.
It’s easy to forget just how successful she was, but also, how quickly her success faded away. Her first public foray into music was in 2003, with an appearance on the S4C talent show, Wawffactor, where she finished 2nd. In 2004, she released a self-titled Welsh language EP, consisting of 3 tracks. Her first major record label album release was March 2008’s Rockferry (which, from what I can gather, has sold over 9 million copies), with the 2nd single from the album, Mercy, becoming an international hit.
Mercy was everywhere (it was #1 in the UK for 5 weeks, spending 57 weeks in total in the top 100 charts). There were follow up singles, including Warwick Avenue (which reached #3 in the UK charts), but a deluxe edition of the album was released in November 2008, with a 2nd 7 track disc, including the forgotten about Rain on Your Parade, which reached #15.
Success is not solely determined by sales and awards, but at the 2009 Brit Awards, she was nominated for 4 awards, winning 3 (Solo Female, Breakthrough Act, and Album of the Year, which I now realise beat Coldplay’s Viva la Vida…I can’t stand Coldplay). The album’s main producer, Bernard Butler (the former guitarist/lyricist of Suede) also won a Brit for ‘Best Producer’. At the 2009 Grammy Awards, she won ‘Best Pop Vocal Album’ (she has one more Grammy award than Snoop Dogg, Katy Perry, Björk, Nas, Diana Ross, Beach Boys, Tupac, Morrissey, Run-DMC, Jimi Hendrix and Queen combined – excluding lifetime achievement awards).
November 2010 saw the release of her second album, Endlessly. One of the major developments was that Butler was replaced by Albert Hammond, whose notable work includes The Hollies, Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, and more. The numbers make clear just how different the response was. It peaked at #9 in the UK charts, with the lead single, Well Well Well reaching a peak of #41, and only spending 3 weeks in the top 100. There was no follow up single. The album isn’t on Spotify (other streaming services are available).
She did also contribute to a handful of soundtracks, and compilation albums, too. This included Stay With Me Baby from the 2009 film The Boat That Rocked, a cover of Live and Let Die for a War Child charity compilation, and 3 tracks for the 2015 film Legend, in which she has a blink and you’ll miss it cameo, portraying Timi Yuro.
That cameo was, until recently, the last time that I had looked her up online, to see if I had recognised her or if this would be leading to a 3rd album/EP, as someone slowly coming back after spending time away to figure out their next move after what I, at the time, thought was the disappointment of her 2nd album.
My students will probably recognise that a lot of the above is descriptive writing, not critical analysis. One of my colleagues describes this as the radio phone in problem of “what’s your point, caller?”.
The short answer is that I was a major fan. Rockferry was released during my first year at Cardiff University, and would have sound tracked a lot of 1st and 2nd year, particularly with the release of the deluxe edition. I would likely have been playing it in the car as I was driving around during the summer of 2008, too. I had also gone from hiring albums for 50p a week from my local library in college, to being more independent, and spending more of my own money on new music. I can probably name the other albums that I bought around that time, too (The Enemy’s debut album, Foo Fighters’ Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace, and, unfortunately, Sterophonics’ Pull the Pin).
The mid-late 00s saw several solo female/bands with a prominent female lead vocalist rise in popularity. I will forget some names, but Norah Jones, Amy Winehouse, Adele, Lily Allen, Florence & the Machine, La Roux, Little Boots, Goldfrapp and Rumer were contemporaries. At the time, for me, Duffy stood out because of her distinctive voice, and I remember light-hearted debates, where my course mates would try and explain to me why Adele was better. This made me more stubborn, naturally.
In December 2008 I, along with my friend Hedydd (who can speak far more authoritatively about the Welsh language music scene), watched her live at Newport Leisure Centre – a venue which, honestly, is the strangest place I have ever been to watch a gig. It stank of chlorine, and the gig was hosted in a back room, effectively on bleachers, but it was genuinely fantastic. I bought myself a keyring from the merch stand on the way out.
With that said, I don’t remember getting the 2nd album, at all. You would think that one of my favourite artists releasing an album would have stuck with me. I do remember thinking the lead single, Well Well Well was poor, and I remember listening to the title track, Endlessly, before the album was released, and liking that. I mainly remember being disappointed, but I can’t really remember why. I thought that poor sales meant a tour wasn’t profitable, and earning enough success from her first album meant she could spend time away, be more selective/focus on other projects, and have a private life (a recent annoyance is seeing celebrity headlines of ‘secret weddings’ and ‘secret illnesses’ – they’re not secret, they’re private).
Last week, whilst following social distancing guidance, I listened to the vast majority of Endlessly on my walk to the Co-Op and back, before listening to the full deluxe edition of Rockferry, and then Endlessly in full on my walk up to ASDA Govan to do my big shop (queuing meant I got to listen to all of the songs). Was 21-year-old me right to be so dismissive?
What is on the original version of Rockferry, and it hold up? In a word, yes. It’s still a good album. Mercy was never my favourite track from it – Rockferry itself was. Warwick Avenue was a good follow up single, as was Stepping Stone. The album tracks, Hanging on Too Long and the chorus of Delayed Devotion stand out. I had particularly forgotten about I’m Scared. Revisiting it, though, it’s a darker album than I remember. Not to the same extent as Amy Winehouse on Back to Black, but there’s something there. You can understand why Bernard Butler was a good fit. Writing dark lyrics for a singer with a distinctive voice (Brett Anderson) is what he did in Suede, too, after all. It’s not perfect – I’ve never been a fan of Syrup and Honey (even live), and Serious is one I’m happy to skip.
What is on the deluxe version of Rockferry? Rain on Your Parade (which the album notes tell me was co-written by Steve Booker, not Butler) is under-rated. It’s a good selling point for spending your money to buy mostly the same album, again. Stop is one which I had honestly forgotten about, but which works well on a sunny walk. Oh Boy is a surprise gem. I’m in danger of just listing all of the songs on here and saying “ah, it’s good”, but apart from Fool for You, I really am pleased I bought it.
Importantly for me, then, how was it revisiting Endlessly? It’s been a surprisingly rewarding experience. It’s not as good as Rockferry, but it isn’t dark, and I think the only reason I can outright hear a difference in how it was put together (i.e. how much of an influence the change of producer had) is because I’m actively listening to try and hear one. My Boy is a solid opening song. Too Hurt to Dance is quite a mournful song, but by no means is it bad. The 3-song run of Don’t Forsake Me, Endlessly, and the best track on the album, Breath Away were a real treat to revisit. Hard for the Heart is a good closing track, I think. However, Well Well Well still is not my cup of tea, and Lovestruck (particularly the introduction) and Girl are instant ‘skip tracks’.
Was I Wrong to Dismiss It?
It’s safe to say from this that I was wrong to dismiss it. However, I’m struggling to put my finger on exactly why I did in the first place – this was only about 2.5 years after Rockferry. My taste in music music hadn’t changed, and arguably still hasn’t. I wasn’t comparing her to her contemporaries and suddenly ‘changing allegiance’. It might have been that I remember buying a couple of albums in 2009-10 which were underwhelming, and I thought this was another to add to the list? Maybe I bought into the theory of the difficult 2nd album – it’s very difficult to know what to do. Do you stick with what you know, or try something different? It’s not the same as Rockferry, but equally, it isn’t really a radical departure either. The lead single really isn’t very good, but there’s many an album where I have overlooked that.
Or maybe it’s just simpler than that – I was wrong about it. I focused on the things I didn’t like, rather than the things that I did like. That leaves me thinking if there is such a thing as being a ‘bad fan’, and if so, whether I was one? I hadn’t really been given a reason to not support her. I think if she had toured, I would have gone to see her live, and would have a different perspective on it. If there were an EP, or a 3rd album, I probably would have bought it. But there’s no obligation on an artist to tour, really.
One thing the exercise, and knowing what has happened to her, has done is made me want a 3rd album. There’s a chance of it, after she sent a new song to Jo Whiley to play in her show recently. Musically, I realise that I like the content that she’s released so far, not just a portion of it. However, if it does come along, the comeback story on its own would be something to celebrate, and I don’t want something so horrific to defeat someone. Equally, if there isn’t a 3rd album, for perfectly understandable reasons, I’m still content I’ve gone back and revisited this. Quite whether I do the same for all the albums I’ve dismissed in the past is another thing – I have bought some real stinkers in my time. Either way, 21 year-old me owes an apology - he was wrong, and he's sorry.