Music

Florence and the Machine: Lungs

Florence and the Machine deliver a stunning debut in the wake of overwhelming expectations.


Florence and the Machine
Label: Island
Title: Lungs
US release date: 2009-10-20
UK release date: 2009-07-06
Label Website
Artist Website

It’s official; we’re heading for the end times. Look at the signs: the economy is shattered, Michael Jackson is dead, Blur is back together, and, somehow, Lungs is brilliant. Because, really, it shouldn’t be. After all, we’ve seen the cycle before. A band comes along with a couple brilliant singles and a follow-up that inevitably disappoints. That initial buzz sputters out as quickly as it started, and a promising musician heads back to the corners of the interwebs, cranking out singles that the world treats with polite indifference.

Maybe that’s because it’s so hard to sustain the raw excitement of those initial tracks in the face of incredible expectations; say, for example, featuring on the NME Awards tour, or winning a critics choice award at the Brits. To do so requires more than just a great songwriter, stellar vocals, and musical talent. It requires a level of commitment that most young newcomers would balk at before retreating to the comforts of sexting and iPhones, or whatever young people do these days.

Luckily, Florence is not like most newcomers. Really, she’s not like anyone. Some key details first: Florence is Florence Welsh, a self-described pretty pale girl, and the Machine are one brilliant backing band. But they are a backing band, because this is Florence’s show. And what a show it is. Just that voice, the one heard many months ago coming from absolutely nowhere, a mix of jazz and folk and blue-eyed soul like nothing in a long time. Or rather, like everything. Lungs is a vast jumble of influences, from Kate Bush and Tori Amos to UK electronica (on the Source/Candi Staton cover “You’ve Got the Love”), with Florence’s voice taking on most of the work.

But before going on, we’ve got to deal with “Kiss with a Fist", Florence’s first single and still one of her best. I admit that when I first heard “Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up)", single number three, it sounded like a retreat, an admission that nothing could match the scruffy brightness of that first effort. But on further listening, “Kiss with a Fist” feels more like the most traditional number on an album straining to be something new.

That’s not to say that it’s a bad number. It’s obviously brilliant. It’s a pitch-perfect pop song in the KT Tunstall vein, with Florence sneering her way into our hearts. But just look at the haunting menace of “Drumming Song", the sheer ambition of “Cosmic Love", the celebratory pop of “Hurricane Drunk". This is an artist you can’t pin down, can’t demand anything from because, like all the greats, she knows how to surprise your expectations. “If you could only see / the beast you’ve made of me," she snarls on “Howl". Anyone who’s come across this redheaded waif in the papers and made their snap judgments needs to hear just how brutal, how brilliant, and how sexy, she can really be.

Of course, this is still a debut, so it might be a little premature to crown Ms. Welch the best thing to happen to British pop since Lily Allen. Like that the titular creature on “Rabbit Heart", it’d be all-too-easy to frighten her away and send her back to the bizarrely beautiful place she came from. And, yes, she might not be the most versatile singer out there (her operatic voice tends to swing from melodramatic to melancholy, and that’s about it). But for an artist this young, on a first album, that only feels like strength. Because those pipes are big enough to shake the rain from the trees and, with an eclectic balance of genres leaning heavily towards folk and soul, she’s got enough support to make her seem powerful rather than overbearing.

Ultimately, with so many new bands scrambling to be heard amidst the din of MySpace and YouTube, with a million next big things out there, why should you spend 45 precious minutes with Florence and the Machine? Maybe because of the resigned but resilient woman singing on “I’m Not Calling You a Liar". Or because of the near-brilliant lyricism of “My Boy Builds Coffins". Or maybe because few moments in pop history have captured joy like the last 30 seconds of “The Dog Days Are Over". Because what you have, right here, is a truly rare thing -- a perfect debut. So congratulations, Florence. Now it’s time to conquer that troublesome sophomore slump. But frankly, I wouldn’t worry.

9

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image