2008: “Mercy” (Duffy, Rockferry)
They must have been putting something in the water over in England back in 2008, because we got not one but two albums from female singers that hearkened back to the days of Dusty Springfield and swinging London. The two albums came out a little over a month apart, and while seemingly almost everybody else was jumping on the Adele train that would culminate in her pretty much ruling the world the last two years, I of course ended up backing the other horse in the race.
Both Adele and Duffy have distinctive voices, but for some reason, it was the husky sound of Duffy that hooked me right off the bat. Adele can belt with the best of them, but Duffy has that one more drink at last call in a smoky bar sultriness to her voice that’s a much more subtle earworm. And while Adele can make you feel her pain, Duffy convinces you she’s going to get even with whoever caused hers. Maybe it’s that more assertive tone that drew me to her in the first place. That, and the fact that “Mercy” sounds like it could have been buried in a time capsule from the 1960s. It’s got that snaky keyboard line, those girly “yeah yeah yeahs,” that vividly call to mind a time I never really experienced, but feel like I know from constant evocations and recreations. It’s as if a double-decker bus full of mod girls in miniskirts is going to drive by.
But “Mercy,” and all of Rockferry, have a more personal connection. The album came out the year my good friend Nick passed away, and one of our last conversations was him asking if there was any good new music out. Knowing he was older than me and would probably appreciate the connection more than I did, I told him to check out Duffy. The next time we met, the first thing he said was, “That Duffy album? Winner.” Not that I needed his validation, but I got a kick out of the fact that my recommendation had hit home. He was gone not long after, but at least I’d helped add one more enjoyable thing to his life before he left.
Duffy would battle Adele again two years later, and again with albums a mere month apart, but Duffy’s Endlessly would eventually get buried by the monster that was 21. But I still stand by my choice from 2008. Even if she didn’t get to sing a Bond song.