Florence + The Machine

Island Records, 2009

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


Chamber pop seems to have experienced something of a renaissance this decade, from Fleet Foxes to Bon Iver to this outfit, Florence + The Machine, fronted by the statuesque redhead Florence Welch. The debut album, Lungs, kicked off the 2010’s quite dramatically. At first, it feels as though the sounds of harps and drums are competing with each other, but this is clearly intentional. It’s what life is all about: soft vs. hard, yin vs. yang. Welch’s voice complements all of these diverse elements beautifully. One minute she’s down to a whisper, the next, she’s belting it out like any of the soul divas that came before. Most times she settles into a unique, faux-operatic groove, as though she’s an angel wafting on a cloud. Think Connie Francis meets Stevie Nicks (gypsy veils included).

Forget the ever-annoying plasticity of the pop tarts like Iggy Azalea or Meghan Trainor who are spoiling the airwaves of today, THIS is the music you should be sinking your teeth into – like Florence fantasizes about doing quite graphically to a man’s chest on “Howl.” From the stunning opener “Dog Days Are Over,” (about resilience and inspiration), it’s made clear that we should expect the unexpected. Changes from slow to fast tempo combined with the hook of handclaps and thundering tribal beats are what make this the Machine’s most successful and signature tune. The harps are a bit overused and Flo’s vocals are a tad on the languid, sleepy side throughout my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Lungs, but these are tastes easily acquired.

There’s a theme of being haunted by ghosts running through this tight collection of tracks, especially on “Blinding” and “I’m Not Calling You A Liar” (which actually had been entitled “Ghosts” originally). Doomed love affairs are also captured to dramatic effect on “Hurricane Drunk” – seeing your beloved with someone else is never good – and the rip-roaring punk song that was quite a daring choice for lead-off single, “Kiss With A Fist,” about a relationship that has deteriorated to the point of domestic violence. It’s all unsettling stuff for sure, and even may cause some listeners to question whether finding love without conflict is even possible or worth the effort. Nevertheless, such messages are very apropos for such confusing, turbulent times such as these.

Another standout is the surprisingly strong jazzy torch number depicting a lesbian affair – with some choice lines like “Get your filthy fingers out of my pie” and “I slipped my hand under her skirt, I said don’t worry, it’s not going to hurt.” The jury will be out on whether this one is designed for a laugh or a shock for some time…but is anything really all that shocking anymore?

There is a redundant grey patch from “The Drumming Song” to “Cosmic Love,” but then a track like “My Boy Builds Coffins” comes around and we see what a strong lyricist and storyteller Florence really is. As a throwback to medieval times, we get a sense of what life was like for an artisan. It’s a refreshing change of pace to break all the tension and has a nice, vintage feel to it.

The Deluxe version of this release is really worth seeking out. It features experimental cuts like “Heavy In Your Arms” and “Hardest Of Hearts,” which both point to what the band has in mind for the future. “Falling” has amazing lyrics about all the ways we fall, flail and fail as human beings, and the deceptively simple, charming and catchy “Are You Hurting The One You Love” contains the refrain “could not stop,” another sign of the times for the addictive social media-saturated world we’re now living in. I do wish the bonus track re-make of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted To Love” could have taken the place of the played-out Candi Staton remake of “You’ve Got the Love” on the main album, but I guess you can’t have everything…

Rating: B+

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