Album Review: Florence & The Machine – Lungs

Florence Welch is an enigma. At some point, London based Welch went from a flame headed songstress to a Gothic vixen. Even the cover of Lungs appears to have been designed before this transformation, as Welch comes across nymph-like. Her latest performances, including a barn-storming turn at Glastonbury ’09, have seen an ample supply of black make-up and hot pants. In the UK at least, the very sight of this woman seems to polarize opinion. She is the musical equivalent of Marmite, some say.

Just what happened to her?

The music is the best place to start, and has experienced a similarly huge overhaul. This is the girl who once supported Devonte Hynes in Lightspeed Champion, an equally dark band, but with a bright and happy exterior. For example, in Champion’s “Midnight Surprise”, a bouncy ballad, drops the huge lyrical bombshell, “wake up, smell the semen.” Welch equally tries to mess with your head. For as much as her exterior appearance runs at a tangent to the folk influences of her music, the combination works.

Lungs is a 12-track announcement of her arrival, and makes a lasting impression. There are small flaws, but the foundations of a long and winding career have been laid.

“Dog Days Are Over” is so kitschy, rising up with hand claps and softly delivered vocals. As with many of the tracks on her debut, there is a steady build to the loud payoff that is quickly becoming her trademark. “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)” has a tinny, reverberating sound. It’s very closed in, with a huge wave of drums and cymbals crashing down before the dramatic closing celebration, which highlights biblical images: “Who is the lamb and who is the knife/Midas is king and he holds me so tight/And turns me to gold in the sunlight.”

“Cosmic Love” is a criminally under-rated track, sadly neglected as a single. After an O2 advert featuring the song aired, it began to outperform its competitors (namely Rabbit Heart), despite not being a single release.

She slips two covers in, both entirely different. First comes “Girl With One Eye”, from punk band The Ludes, with dirty guitar and arpeggio vocals. Next comes “You’ve Got The Love”, from ’80s band The Source, where the club influence is replaced with an uplifting harp driven chorus and Welch’s vocals. I would usually recommend keeping these at B-Sides, but she just pulls it off through the variety of the two tracks.

Lungs has it’s own battles to face, and has succeeded on all counts. Released in the aftermath of Michael Jackson’s death, this album managed to beat all but The Essential Michael Jackson album.

“Kiss With A Fist” is alone on the album, similar in type to Kate Nash’s tangential “Caroline Is A Victim”. Welchis, however, able to bring the rest of the material in line in a live setting. For such audibly uplifting songs, the subject matter is surprisingly melancholy. Most of the songs speak directly of death and violence.

The mish-mash of styles is a hindrance. Essentially, the producers have let this band down. Paul Epworth and James Ford are safe choices, but the production and track order are basic, seemingly left to the last minute. Loud songs precede suddenly silent ballads, and the sound production is neither here nor there. We are treated to tinny at one moment, then expansive, the kind of songs that feel as if they were recorded on top of a mountain, the next. There is very little flow.

However, this doesn’t impact the individual quality of these efforts. Certainly, this is an early shoe-in for the Mercury prize, in what would be a controversial victory. The production mishaps are all easily remedied, pointing to a potentially strong second album. Like it or not, Lungs is going to soundtrack what is left of 2009. Grab a piece while it’s hot.


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