Warwick Avenue (2008)


Written by Jeff Hogarth, Amie Duffy, Eg White
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Warwick Avenue duffyCritics are often late to the party.

Consequently, they steer the listener off a gem and into a musical ditch. Duffy’s “Warwick Avenue” is no diamond in the rough. It is a complex cut that sparkles and shines. (Inexplicably, Rolling Stone places it at only #41 for the entire year of 2008. Ridiculous.)

Amie Duffy’s vocals here are among the finest of the 21st century, controlled yet burning with the last embers of a broken heart. She has agreed to meet with a wayward boyfriend against her better judgment.


A chance to speak once more

When I get to Warwick Avenue
Meet me by the entrance of the tube
We can talk things over a little time
Promise me you won’t step outta line

When I get to Warwick Avenue
Please drop the past and be true
Don’t think we’re okay, just because I’m here
You hurt me bad, but I won’t shed a tear 

I’m leaving you for the last time baby
You think you’re loving but you don’t love me
I’ve been confused outta my mind lately
You think you’re loving but I want to be free
Baby you’ve hurt me

Duffy’s convincing vocals – in fact the whole song – pay homage to the brilliant collaboration of singer Dionne Warwick with composers Burt Bacharach and Hal David in the 1960s and early ‘70s. The use of the station stop, Warwick Avenue, then is no accident.

Warwick Avenue Dionne WarwThe homage is long overdue. Dionne Warwick is the woman with the second most charting singles in history (56), following only Aretha Franklin (88!). Warwick’s “Don’t Make Me Over,” “Walk On By,” and “Anyone Who Had A Heart,” all contribute to “Warwick Avenue” and all of Duffy’s deeper work. She grabbed a torch and is passing it on. She brings new meaning to the expression, “blue-eyed soul,” touching every tone and note in the big Blues book.

Duffy, the group, instills new life in the musical concepts first fleshed out by Warwick and her songwriters. The musical-theater strain in the Bacharach/David teamwork remains but “Warwick Avenue” veers toward Rock and Soul. Duffy bends the old way but doesn’t break it.

A dominant bass line; a relaxed, Bernard Butler moody lead guitar that “hiccups” as in seminal Doo-Wop songs; and drum work that accents every emotional swerve the singer takes us through are reminiscent of classic Muscle Shoals recordings. Sweetly, Duffy doesn’t abandon the lush string backing of the Warwick era – they are crucial to the message. Like Warwick, Duffy’s got the pipes to, at turn, ride the waves of dense sound and slice through them.

Warwick Avenue subway stationThis is a serious Rock song about adult problems and adult resignation. Sadness envelops the work like a London fog. Like fog, it is a bit confounding, but there is also a comfort in the warm downbeat feeling. There is a catharsis but it is incomplete. Like real life. Maybe that’s what the critics don’t get about “Warwick Avenue.”

It’s hard after a hundred years or so to write a break-up lyric that stings, forgiving while chastening the partner who has stepped out of line. But the trio of writers pulls it off flawlessly. Whatever the realities behind the matter may be, the song is written from experience and touches anyone who has ever experienced love’s crash landing.

From vocals to arrangement to the cleanest production London can offer; from the train metaphor to the Warwick retrospective, this is a masterwork in every way. The half rhymes are literate, do not struggle: avenue/tube/true, together/better, lately/baby. The writers have a serious ear for words.

All the days spent together, I wished for better
But I didn’t want the train to come
Now it’s departed
I’m broken hearted, seems like we never started
All those days spent together, when I wished for better
And I didn’t want the train to come

You think you’re loving but you don’t love me
I want to be free, baby you’ve hurt me
You don’t love me, I want to be free
Baby you’ve hurt me

Warwick avenue on stage

  • The album on which “Warwick Avenue” appears, Rockferry, won the Grammy for best pop vocal at the 2009 awards ceremony. It has sold almost 8 million copies.
  • The original video for “Warwick Avenue” was to be a fairly typical studio production. Amie Duffy decided it was wrong and filmed just herself riding in the back of a car, crying (real tears) as she sings.