On the ocean-eyed, luscious-lipped, porcelain-cheeked, paper-white face of it, Welsh songstress Duffy is perfect. To start with, her story’s sweet. Now 23, she grew up in remote north Wales, listening to her mother’s modest record collection, smoking in garden sheds and telling ghost stories. Through that inherited, meagre library – and the blessing of tonsils the size of Cadillac hub-caps – she taught herself to sing. By 19, she was discovered by 60Ft Dolls’ Richard Parfitt, who brought her to the attention of Jeanette Lee (once of PiL) at Rough Trade, who hooked her up with Bernard Butler (Suede), Steve Booker and Jimmy Hogarth, who ‘helped’ write this album. It’s a lovely tale, featuring a vulnerable star with a cute nose. However, as everyone from Let’s Wrestle to Girls Aloud will tell you: actually, ‘perfect’ blows.
We realised this last December, as a pair of hollow pupils stared through a camera lens and into the homes of a million Chardonnay drinkers. The occasion was Duffy duetting with Eddie Floyd, as Sir Paul McCartney watched, on Jools Holland’s Hootenanny. Disturbingly, she didn’t look surprised to be there. She didn’t look delighted. In fact, she looked like a science museum exhibit with a robotic grin; no less a product than Will Young or a Dairylea Dunker.
Y’see there’s not much difference between Duffy and Leona Lewis. The tone of ‘Rockferry’ is that of an X Factor covers record: an LP for people who think leaving the washing-up until the morning is living dangerously. Duffy’s debut is hoovered of personality, principally, because on this evidence, she hasn’t got any. Oh but she’s got a spectacular voice they all say – and it’s true, her staccato whisper glides and climbs like Diana Ross riding a pony made of caramel – but it still sounds like she lent her pipes to someone else’s record.
‘Rockferry’ does have its merits: it’s over in the time it takes for three school runs and it certainly sounds expensive (we presume it was recorded in a platinum-plated studio with caviar chandeliers). For the most part, though, it’s Duffy merely parroting her carefully selected peers. She does it proficiently: for ‘Rockferry’, see Dusty Springfield. On ‘Warwick Avenue’ it’s Mary J Blige. The single ‘Mercy’, with its Austin Powers’ organ? Why, Aretha Franklin. You get the idea.
It’s a record without a blemish, a thoughtful tribute timeline to the great female singers of the past. Plump, well-formed like a Christmas turkey primed for slaughter, but tellingly, without any glimpse of Duffy’s real soul, no hint of her heart. So where do you go from perfect? Honestly, there’s no route out.