Saturday, April 30, 2011

30 Songs, 30 Days (2009 Edition), Day Twenty Seven: Mercy by Duffy

And now, for our listening pleasure....Little English Girls (well, Welsh girls in this case) with Big Black Voices.

And I'm a sucker for this weird sub-genre of pop music, a sub-genre that's gotten itself something of a resurgence in the last few years with the advent of Joss Stone, Amy Winehouse...and now this little slip of a thing. There's something about this loud, booming, tangy voice whipping out of the mouth of someone so improbable that makes me weak in the knees.

It's obvious that Duffy loves her Shirelles..."Mercy" definitely apes the impenetrable wall of sound that convicted murderer Phil Spector used as his trademark. Although there are some things that still echo of a more modern sensibility--when we get to the bridge at the 2 and a quarter minute mark, the near-subliminal lyrics that whisper from underneath her pleas is something straight out of the mid 90's Alt-Rock playbook. Of course, the combination is melded together so well that it helps to strengthen the song rather than throw it off the rails.

Of course, the question does arise...why do we have such a plethora of these white-girls-singing-black these days? My guess is that right now 'modern rhythm and blues' has wandered so far away from its roots, allowing the heritage of Aretha and Ronnie and Darlene to be diluted into so much generic sludge (I'm sorry, but Darlene Love in her prime could kick both Rhianna and Beyonce's asses musically. Together. With one hand tied behind her back) that those of us who love the real stuff are willing to embrace that sound no matter where its coming from. And quite frankly, Joss and Duffy seem to know more about R&B than the present R&B Divas ever will.

Before we leave this song, I wanted to show the rather...disparate...way the American and English labels promoted 'Mercy.' Here's the English video, from Polydor UK...
I actually like this one a lot...there's something very, very creepy about its hazy lighting and the minimalist sets, like it's a broadcast of Ready, Steady Go from limbo. In that context, the sight of the dancers catching fire has an altogether unpleasant connotation.

It turns out the American version has disappeared from YouTube--it was blocked by Universal Music Group.  It's pretty sad, because the American version is rather different from this one.  On one hand, it's obvious the American version, like the English version, is trying to keep the concept of Duffy being something of a throwback in the video....but the whole implication that this is the equivalent of a old school stag loop (What's with the arbitrary shots of the photographer shooting a bra-and-pantied Duffy that pop up out of nowhere halfway through?) makes me think they're missing the point....

Incidentally, rumor has it that Duffy is going to be offered the chance to perform the next James Bond theme song...and you know, I'm pretty good with that.

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