This is white girl blues at its best, and I admit that I’m feeling it pretty hard. A white girl may not have a real good reason for having the blues, and her depth of experience may be as thin as her ankles, but goddamn it, she’s got the blues anyway. And if she’s Duffy, she going to sing her heart out about it. What is white girl blues, anyway? Does your man make you feel mildly insecure? Do you suspect that the role you’re playing in his life might be a little bit problematic? Are you second-guessing yourself about why, deep down inside, you’ve allowed yourself to be placed in such a problematic position in the first place? If you answered yes, you got the white girl blues. White girl blues is when you don’t actually have any real problems, and you know that you don’t really have any real problems, but you feel like shit anyway. You feel like garbage and you hate your life; and you feel like you’re somehow broken inside in ways you can’t quite articulate; and you feel lonely and unloved like some kind of a goddamned torch singer from the fifties; and you would like to fall in love and be swept away but you’re not about to compromise your principles in order to make that possible, so thank you very much.
Remember 2008? Duffy was the singing sensation of the year. She got all kinds of glowing press accolades, including some embarrassing honorifics like “the new Dusty Springfield” or ” a more wholesome Winehouse.” Well, that was ten years ago and we haven’t heard a peep from Duffy since 2010. Apparently she didn’t take to fame the way some people do. She wanted to write songs and sing them, not to have every part of herself be turned into a commodity. It’s unfortunate that to succeed as an artist in this day and age, you have to sell a lot more than just your work; you have to be a brand from your eyelashes to your toenails, and not everybody wants to be looked at that intensely. Duffy, for her part, had the gumption to say ‘fuck this’ and just walk away, unlike Winehouse, who also just wanted to write songs and sing them. At least we got Rockferry, which is still marvelous ten years later, and who knows, maybe she’ll have something more to say when she’s lived more life.
Mmmm, talk about sorely missed. Watch Amie Duffy get her Roxie Hart on. So glamorous, so retro! Well, apparently, Duffy is not one of those people who enjoy strutting around with no pants on, and getting sucked into the fame machine just about gave her a nervous breakdown. Which is why she isn’t recording anymore. Getting the short end in comparisons to Amy Winehouse hurts an artist, and getting groomed to look like somebody’s retrograde idea of a sex kitten hurts a woman. Those were not things that Duffy wanted for herself, and I hope that someday she’ll find the motivation to come back with an image more to her own liking. Even if not, she made enough of an impact with what she did do. If I had to compare her to anyone, it would be Nancy Sinatra, who looked doe-eyed as a baby doll and sang about vindictive self-empowerment.
There’s nothing like a good torch song. Even if it’s corny, it’s still good for cleansing for the tear ducts. Especially in the hands of an emotive singer, of course. I think that Duffy, despite her limited output, is one of the most outstanding torch singers in recent memory. Her voice is different; she’s not what they call a powerhouse. But her grasp of emotional nuance is above and beyond the normal diva range. Also, her tastes run retro – retro to the point of near-camp sometimes. It works, though it’s a tricky aesthetic to pull off consistently. It works because a lot of torch songs are, let’s face it, retrograde; you need a hint of irony to leverage that out.
Am I the only who remembers Duffy? She made two great albums and disappeared into early retirement, spooked by the hot house pressure of fame, I suppose. Well, I miss her. She has the voice of a cartoon princess, and the musical and sartorial aesthetic of a 1960’s lounge chanteuse. And she sings about love stuff in the quavering tones of a true romantic. Love stuff makes me weary, but a good love song can restore the faith, just for a minute or two. There’s an appealing simplicity to the image of a cute blonde with big hair and eyelashes, and a heart full of longing, and a fairy tale faith that purity of soul will be rewarded. I have no faith in any virtue being rewarded, but it’s a nice fantasy.
As usual, Duffy sounds like she should be kibbitzing with Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark and Diana Ross. Her music perfectly captures a modern vision of 60’s girl group and soul music. Yes, it is slightly odd that she’s singing about the joys and tribulations of banging a much younger lover – she would have been all off 26 years old in 2010, not exactly cougar material. Still, her vulnerability and defiance are charming, and the song is one of her brightest. Duffy is a British soul singer who got overshadowed on one side by Amy Winehouse and by Adele on the other. She’s no Winehouse, but she’s far better than Adele. Those comparisons, of course, are not constructive, and may be in no small part what drove her to take a hiatus form music. I would say that she is outstanding in the Blue Eyed Soul category, and channels her influences without sounding derivative or overly commercial.
The singer Duffy shares her name with a cartoon bear. She should have thought of that before she went and became famous. In actuality though, I don’t think Duffy cares very much about famousness. She’s backed away from her career, partly because of the pressure. Which is a loss, because the world most definitely needs the services of a tiny Welsh blonde who sounds like she time traveled from sixties Motown. Unfortunately, in the world of pop today (and yesterday and most likely tomorrow), pretty blondes get wrung through a very special kind of wringer. Duffy is hardly the first to be unhappy with the dehumanizing side effects of musical success. I hope she makes some kind of peace with it and comes back with more records. Flamboyant self destruction is always an option for those who want to destroy a too-wholesome image, but I don’t recommend it.