It's neither accurate nor fair to describe the lush, yearning sound of the Welsh singer-songwriter Duffy as retro. Granted, this follow-up to her blockbuster 2008 debut finds her paying homage to everything from girl-group balladry to '70s Eurodisco and '80s new wave, but the record's production and beats are undeniably contemporary and always in the service of the song.
"Well, Well, Well," the album's first single, is a sleek, serrated collaboration with hip-hop band the Roots. "Lovestruck" features an acerbic string arrangement and jittery techno beats. "Keeping My Baby," with its electro-pop symphonics, nods melodically and thematically to Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach," while the nervy neo-disco of "Girl" suggests what might have happened had the Pet Shop Boys engineered a Shirelles reunion.
Duffy's pop classicism - the impulse in her music that some might consider retro - is more pronounced on "Endlessly's" handful of ballads, which account for half of the record's two- to four-minute tracks. With its weeping strings and bruised piano triplets, "Too Hurt to Dance" is a study in heartbreak, as well as a roomy vehicle for Duffy's vulnerable yet powerful vocals. The force of that voice, something that tends to be concealed by the occasional girlishness of her phrasing, is likewise notable on the torchy "Don't Forget Me" and the pining, Brenda Lee-inspired title track.
There's no unearned melodrama here. Instead, building incrementally, the slower numbers ratchet up the tension through an accretion of pathos - and, typically, to satisfying dramatic effect.
Recommended Tracks: "Well, Well, Well," "Endlessly," "Keeping My Baby"