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Somewhere there's an unofficial manual about how to create legendary soul albums. There's advice for budding new artists on how to screw up their life a bit, get their heart broken, acquire some 'issues' and turn it all into music. Listening to Rockferry, it's evident that Duffy hasn't yet read this book; the haunting experience of hurt is tangible by its absence. However, the scholarly pursuit of her craft has resulted in an album that's a delicious confection of elegent, bluesy soul. It's not legendary, but it's well over halfway there.
This 23-year-old Welsh singer arrives in a fanfare of expectation. Second single, Mercy took its nouveau Northern Soul straight to number one - shimmying through the melee of nu-rave, skinny jean indie and witterings of Kate Nash et al. While there's a glut of Winehouse wannabes on the scene right now, Duffy's longevity is assured. Much has been made of the three years it's taken to mature this album - and it's this that sends her soaring beyond the likes of Adele, whose rushed debut was devoid of character.
The spine-tingling orchestration comes courtesy of a dream team of writers and producers, one of which is indie veteran Bernard Butler: the thinking man's Mark Ronson. He brings the album to a dazzling denouement with Distant Dreamer - a sonic waterfall of strings so uplifting you emerge drenched in hope. Elsewhere, the Dusty Springfield comparisons find justification in the likes of debut single Rockferry and Warwick Avenue, a stirring tale of strength and walking away. There are few low points to be found, with the Gabrielle-esque Stepping Stone noticeably hanging limply in the tracklisting.
The subject matter of Rockferry is the preserve of classic soul - rueful tales of myriad insubordinations at the hands of dastardly men - and Duffy's voice is an understated sensation. Yet her youth and naivety mean she's been force-fed pain like she's songstress foie gras. The result is that it's the quality of her sound that resonates, rather than the emotional force of the lyrics. True soul serves up solace for the broken-hearted. With Duffy, lyrics like ''In an instant you were gone / And now I'm scared'' (from sublime relationship eulogy, Scared) simply don't shatter romantic idealism the way they should. After three years of musical growth, Duffy has found her voice - now it's time to enrich it by living.