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florence + the machine: lungs (2009)
June 28, 2009, 7:29 pm
Filed under: album, review, video | Tags: , , , ,

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Florence + The Machine
Lungs ••••½
Island 

Lungs. There’s certainly a set here. And attached to these lungs is one Florence Welch. Florence to the Machine’s changing cast, currently standing at a four-strong band, Welch is a London-born girl with a powerful bluesy-soul voice. Thankfully though, she neither sings about the minutiae of mundane relationships nor revels in being from the capital. Quite the opposite is true: there’s a large amount of fantasy and storytelling going on here.

While the first three releases from the album – dating all the way back to the musically raucous and lyrically provocative debut ‘Kiss With A Fist’ in June 2008 – certainly left their mark on the music press, none charted within the top 40. Nevertheless, owing in part to some her notorious live performances and a reputation for being ‘kooky’, Florence + The Machine have amassed a fair portion of this year’s generous hype-allowance: they were third in the BBC’s Sound Of 2009 poll (with Little Boots at #1 and La Roux at #5) and collected the Critics’ Choice Award at February’s Brit Awards. The stirring new single ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’, whose chorus is as melodious and singable as it is haunting and epic, finally did the business for the band this weekend, landing just outside the top 10, and big things are expected of Lungs. Fortunately, the expectations set by ‘Rabbit Heart’ for drama and theatrics are more than met by the album.

‘Kiss With A Fist’ underlined Welch’s towering vocals with stabbing guitar, but elsewhere the album’s palette leans more towards baroque-folk, with shimmering harps and flutes fluttering in stereo. These flourishes are all tethered to a solid base though; the album’s backbone is formed of relentlessly pounding drums, weighing the songs down and stopping them heading for the heavens. Perhaps it’s the impassioned vocals, or something primordial in the drumming, but these songs are big, attention-hogging things that can’t be left alone – and this is what makes Lungs such a satisfying listening experience. It grabs you and completely draws you in. Air-drumming is inescapable.

Hype naturally brings with it a ream of comparisons, and Welch has had the standards: Kate Bush, Björk, PJ Harvey. There are, however, a few moments on Lungs that invite comparison with Bat For Lashes. The most patent of these, ‘Cosmic Love’, almost seems too easy: references to the stars and the moon, the harp, the tribal drumming. But comparison with your peers needn’t always be pejorative, especially as there’s no plagiarism going on. When Florence + The Machine do veer into Bat For Lashes territory, it’s a more anthemic, less folkloric Natasha Khan that emerges. There is more aggression, too: “I’m gonna rip your little heart out, ’cause you make me cry,” threatens Welch on ‘Girl With One Eye’, shortly after she has resorted to arson on ‘Kiss With A Fist’.

Lungs exists in a fairytale world, but one that’s more Grimm than Disney – but what is refreshing is that Welch is happy to confess it’s just a style thing: “Everything is about boys!” she proclaims on her website bio. Be that as it may, a good analogy or metaphor doesn’t harm the story. The tale told in ‘My Boy Builds Coffins’ is of a perpetual casket-maker and the irony of his craftsmanship being thrown in the ground. Lyrically, it’s a nice concept, but it’s somewhat let down by hackneyed rhyming couplets. Indeed, it’s only the occasional trite lyric that mars the album, and that’s only if you’re focusing on them. Welch could sing whatever she wanted in the last couple minutes of ‘Drumming’ and it wouldn’t diminish it at all. The music, the voice and the passion demonstrated here are all so powerful it is impossible not to stand up and take notice.

Even with its penchant for the overwrought, Lungs is well-paced, knowing when to keep things gentle (‘Between Two Lungs’) but also when nothing but an all-out choral coda will suffice (‘Howl’). The “bonus” cover of Candi Staton’s ‘You’ve Got The Love’ feels slightly tagged onto the end, diluting the massive finale of would-be album closer ‘Blinding’, but this is a minor issue. Lungs is such a bewilderingly accomplished, confident and riotous debut that questioning the likelihood of a follow-up is redundant.

Daniel Clatworthy
UK release date: 06/07/09; www.myspace.com/florenceandthemachinemusic

 

‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’

‘Dog Days Are Over’

‘Kiss With A Fist’


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[…] florence + the machine: lungs (2009) […]

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[…] Florence + The Machine, Lungs [review] 5/1 Kasabian, West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum 6/1 Bat For Lashes, Two Suns [review] 6/1 […]

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[…] What we said then: “Perhaps it’s the impassioned vocals, or something primordial in the drumming, but these songs are big, attention-hogging things that can’t be left alone – and this is what makes Lungs such a satisfying listening experience. It grabs you and completely draws you in. Air-drumming is inescapable… Lungs is such a bewilderingly accomplished, confident and riotous debut that questioning the likelihood of a follow-up is redundant.” ••••½ Daniel Clatworthy […]

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