Florence and The Machine – Lungs (Island) 06/07/09

August 11, 2009 by  

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Winners of The Brits Critic’s Choice award and hotly tipped for success at this year’s Mercury Prize, Florence and The Machine are one of the most exciting acts to emerge in recent times. For over a year the band have been touring extensively, including supporting Blur at Hyde Park, a BBC Introducing session and an acclaimed slot at Glastonbury. Very few debuts have carried such a crushing weight of expectation and come out of it with any credit at all.

In “Lungs”, Florence Welch has produced both the most beautiful and the most frustrating album possible. Island did well to recognise the most distinctive quality of Florence’s music – her unparalleled voice, naming the album for it in fact. That they then handed production duties to people who have done their best to distract from such a prodigious talent is heartbreaking. As an album, “Lungs” is absolutely stunning; varied, interesting, evocative and electrifying by turn. As a reflection of the raw talent available, it is frustratingly limited.

Album opener “Dog Days Are Over” is a wonderful example of this. A fan favourite from live performances, “Dog Days Are Over” is a fairytale with balls, a mixture that sums up the album well. The harp-like intro proceeds Florence on gentler form, drawing you in before thudding drums announce her really letting loose. But not as much as she is capable of. In its transition to the album, Welch’s sheer power of delivery has been scaled back and layered into a more choral form, losing much of its vitality, especially in the horribly muddled and chaotic finale.

“Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)” was the last single to be taken from the album and it is easy to see why. Its mix of powerful chorus and delicately crooned verse is perfect for popular radio and will no doubt bring more pop-oriented fans into her already large collection. A tale of angst and pain tinged with fairy tale euphoria: “Midas is King and he holds me so tight, turns me to gold in the sunlight”, it sounds like KT Tunstall meshed with Kate Bush.

One of the first peaks of the album is “Howl”. Simple, subdued piano floats over rolling drums, before Florence sets off on another flight of emotion “If you could only see, the beast you made of me, I heard it in the night, seems you set it running free”. Delicate string harmonies are ably employed to squeeze yet more poignancy and meaning from an already painfully beautiful song.

“Kiss With A Fist” was Florence’s first release, and it sounds like it. Different and brave at the time, it’s musically a little isolated from the rest of the album and doesn’t really fit. “Cosmic Love” returns to form. “The stars, the moon, they have all been blown out, you’ve left me in the dark” sings Florence, in soft, lilting tones that contrast the powerful chorus perfectly.

Ending the album with a cover of Candi Staton’s “You Got The Love” is another puzzler. Good though the version is, it doesn’t add much to the original. (or The Source’s excellent dance version). If ending the album with a cover was necessary, a far better choice would have been Welch’s shiver-inducing cover of Cold War Kids “Hospital Beds”.

On the whole though, “Lungs” is a remarkable album; filled with emotion, artistry and power. Florence and The Machine are all the more special for the fact that they justify the hype and then some.

[rating:4.5]

By Liam Clune


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