Wednesday, 1 July 2009

'Lungs' by Florence and The Machine

The path to surefire success has well and truly been laid out for Florence and the Machine. A path that so far includes prizes, plaudits and praise in the form of a Critic’s Choice BRIT Award, 3rd place in the BBC’s Sound of 2009 poll as well as the coveted opening slot on this year’s NME Awards Tour. The weight of expectation to deliver upon early promise and repay the support (plus the financial outgoings) of her label is undoubtedly heavy for a young lady barely out of her teens. If she is affected however, Florence Welch isn’t showing it – confidently seeming to take it all in her stride. A beguiling songstress playing the lead in her own fairy tale complete with moniker and replete with theatrical romanticism. Like all fairy tales, ‘Lungs’ explores the dark sides of human nature too, repelling as well as attracting. But does it have a happy ending?

Emerging at the same time as La Roux and Little Boots, Florence has somewhat misguidedly been pigeonholed into the ‘Nu-British-Female-Scene’ or whatever you want to call it. Unlike the aforementioned acts however, she seems more concerned with making music to break hearts rather than the charts. Resisting the temptation to tack on 80’s synths or squelchy bass riffs to her piano-driven arias, even with uber-trendy producers Paul Epworth (Bloc Party, Maximo Park), James Ford (SMD, Arctic Monkeys) and Steve Mackay (M.I.A) at the helm. Instead the production is lush and full of atmosphere driven by an urgent bass track and punctuated by huge, echoing drums. Moving from soulful folk through the ‘White Stripes’ garage blues of ‘Kiss With a Fist’, yearning surf rock of ‘Girl With One Eye’ and back again, Florence’s captivating vocals are rightly pushed to the fore and allowed to soar centre-stage at all times.

Tousled of hair and possessing a penchant for the theatrical, Florence clearly drew much from rummaging through her parents’ Kate Bush records. The comparisons also extend to the singer’s powerful, versatile and unmistakable voice. Naming the album ‘Lungs’ was no happy coincidence given the innate ability she possesses. This is a record that boldly explores broad areas of the musical and emotional spectrum to fully showcase the singing talent of one of the UK’s brightest and most credible young acts. From the breathy drawls accompanying delicate harp at the start of album opener ‘Dog Days Are Over’ to the driving drums and cacophonous multi-tracked choral climax of ‘Drumming’, Florence delivers confident, characterful performances packed full of swoops, howls, cracks and growls. The yearning tone and strained upper reaches sometimes verge on becoming overbearing but are often reined in before the balance is tipped.

It’s all too easy to get lost in the musicality of Florence’s vocals and overlook what is being expressed lyrically. The dramatic romanticism of the music is matched in the narrative as Miss Welch takes us on fanciful journeys ‘Between Two Lungs’ where amidst the delicate sound of harps and bells, the most engaging theme is death. It is explored over a number of tracks such as on the skewed folk of ‘I’m Not Calling You a Liar’, “Just stop haunting me and I'll love you so much, I'm gonna let you, kill me”, the catchy pop of ‘Hurricane Drunk’, "I'm going out, I'm going to drink myself to death... I brace myself because I know it's going to hurt" and most conspicuously with ‘My Boy Builds Coffins’. Such dark lyrical content is another feature that sets Florence apart from her peers. La Roux may have been ‘In For The Kill’, but set to bouncing drums and synthesizers, it just sounded like an idle threat. It’s hard to imagine the line “I took a knife and cut out her eye, I took it home and watched it wither and die” (Girl With One Eye) featuring on the next Little Boots single either.

‘Lungs’ perhaps lacks a real ‘album closer’ as a cover of The Source’s ‘You’ve Got to Love’ feels a little tacked on, but this doesn’t detract from what goes before it. This is a mature, inventive and captivating debut that rewards immediately and continues to reveal itself upon repeated listening. Amidst the pressures of delivering upon early promise, ‘Lungs’ is most certainly a triumph and all concerned can breathe easy.