Review Summary: A fantastic debut from a very promising British talent.
When you have a voice like Florence Welch, it’s only going to be a matter of time before you get noticed. And for Welch herself, this was to be a few years ago, inside the loos at a nightclub, while rather intoxicated. Even more strangely, it was Welch herself who decided that this was to be the when and the where it would happen. Dragging Mairead Nash, one half of the DJ outfit Queenz of Noise, into the toilets and serenading her with an Etta James song, Florence Welch got her big break. Nash, who now manages the band, later recalled that it “turned out to be one of those slow-motion moments. I got goose bumps all over.” When you hear her too, you'll understand why. Since then, Florence and her cronies haven’t looked back, bagging the Critics Choice award at the Brits, coming third in the BBC’s Sound of 2009, and gathering an army of followers along the way. I now happen to be one of them.
Welch’s voice has been quickly likened to the legends – Bush and Bjork – and while that’s not embarrassingly wide of the mark, a more accurate comparison would be to Natasha Khan of Bat For Lashes or My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden. She has a stunning range and compelling delivery, but currently lacks the superhuman diversity of the big guns. Nevertheless, as soon as Lungs
’ opener ‘Dog Days Are Over’ gets going, there can be no argument that the eccentric red-head is a major talent. Handclaps, pianos, bass drums, and Welch’s impassioned, fiery, gut-punching vocal blows all come together in a frenzy of furiously soulful indie-pop to create surely one of the best singles of the year thus far. Another of the singles, ‘Rabbit Heart’, features a dangerously infectious gospel-esque chorus that will have club DJs everywhere queuing up for their chance to meddle with the track’s harps, pianos and off-Narnian lyrics (but we all beg you, just don’t).
Make no mistake though, despite the Tim Burton-meets-C.S Lewis lyrical worlds Welch likes to create, this is essentially a pop album. And, as such, most of the lyrical content focuses on the trials and tribulations of love and relationships. Don’t worry; it’s not a bad thing. The Wild-West bar-fight stylings of ‘Kiss With A Fist’ sees Welch musing over the immovable-object/unstoppable-force dilemma of a healthily hostile relationship. ‘Girl With One Eye’ features some of the creepiest lyrics about jealousy (“I put my hand under her skirt / I said don’t worry it’s not gonna hurt!”), accompanied by a sinister guitar line, minimal drums and Welch’s skin-tingling vocals, before exploding into one of the best musical moments of 2009 with Welch imploding on the mic before gathering herself like it was no big deal. A word to the wise: don’t fuc
k with Florence Welch. And don’t be surprised if a few weeks from now on you see dozens of girls in their cars singing about drinking themselves to death because of a break-up with huge smiles on their faces. The breezy, contagious, oddly jubilant summer chorus of ‘Hurricane Drunk’ will do that to you.
And while Welch would be more than capable of carrying off a solo career, an album like this would not be possible unless the machine she carried around with her was well oiled and working to the beat. Which, thankfully, it is. The jungle drumming featured on the track ‘Drumming’ does the title justice, while the harps present on ‘Cosmic Love’ do the same – they just give the song that extra dimension which adds to the floating cosmic feel. The band rarely creates a sound that doesn’t compliment and accentuate Welch’s vocal style, whatever she decides it to be at the time. The sound of both voice and band is often extravagant, ornamental and rich (though never grotesque), but there are more tender moments. ‘I’m Not Calling You A Liar’ just pours sincerity, Welch laying down the paranoia and guard she feels when in love. These are few though, and while Welch’s voice is incredible when pouring down relentlessly, a bit more diversity and a few more gentle tracks wouldn’t hurt next time because she can still rip it up even when the decibels are low.
No, this album isn’t perfect – tracks like ‘My Boy Builds Coffins’ and ‘Blinding’ seem to plod with lethargy rather than dance with fire – but for a debut this is quite an achievement. Bottom line is that Florence Welch can be very proud of the album she and her machine have created here, especially with the pressure that she was under. Lungs
is one of the most exciting, compelling, fearless and ultimately promising debuts of the year. At only 22, it’s going to be very interesting to see how Florence Welch evolves, and I, for one, can’t wait to see how she does it.