Head and shoulders above the other debuts of 2008, Rockferry by Duffy sounds like an instant pop classic. If you took Dusty Springfield, Lulu, Dionne Warwick and The Righteous Brothers and had them sing songs by Burt Bacharach, and gave production chores to Phil Spector, the results couldn't be any less impressive than Rockferry.
Possessing a voice that comes along only once in a decade, full of strength, vulnerability and soul, the 27-year-old native of Wales - born Amy Ann Duffy - is surrounded by lush, string-laden, classic Motown and Stax riffs updated for the 2000s, courtesy of collaborator Bernard Butler, late of Suede and the unsung The Tears. They cowrote four of the album's 10 songs, including the monumental title track and the slinky pop of "Serious," which recalls a focused Macy Gray.
Tracks like "Mercy" reveal that Duffy isn't only an epic ballad singer, but can rock out in a manner that Ray Charles would approve of. Not just a throwback to pop's golden era, Rockferry sounds emphatically contemporary with crisp production, even while it exudes old-fashioned warmth and comfort. It's as if Duffy was saying to her young contemporaries - and to predecessors like Madonna - you don't need to sing about sex to sound sexy.