Florence and the Machine - Lungs
Florence Welsch first raised Irish eyebrows en masse when the haunting 'Cosmic Love' was used in an o2 advert and now it seems everyone is prepared to predict big things for her, and on the back of her début album 'Lungs', it's not very hard to see why. As a package it's quirky and cool enough to make sure people stick around to see what she does next, but how does it measure up as an example of where she's at now? Does it live up to the hype? Well, unfortunately not quite. But maybe that's not such a bad thing.
Anyone already familiar with Florence pre-o2 would probably have also been familiar with her début E.P 'A lot of love, a lot of blood', and if that's you, you'll be happy to hear that three fourths of that record are present and accounted for on 'Lungs', with Welsch proving once again that 'Dog Days are Over' is still a tremendous track to get things going. 'Kiss With a Fist' doesn't fare so well however, sounding completely out of place and almost intimidated by its superior surroundings, and her cover of 'You've got the Love' is still as drippy and irrelevant as it was first time round.
I have to be very careful in how I word this review though. While I didn't necessarily enjoy 'Lungs' from start to finish, and the heartless cynic in me desperately wants to dislike anything that comes packaged with that amount of hype, it's by no means a bad record. Welsch has been compared to Kate Bush a lot recently and that's probably the best summary for the album I can think of. There's flashes of pure brilliance ('Rabbit Heart', 'Cosmic Love') that are broken up by unfortunate moments of Bush-esque indulgence ('I'm Not Calling You A Liar', 'Blinding'). Thankfully, the former tends to outweigh the latter, and for every step Welsch takes toward Bjork, she takes another two back, ensuring that even the quirkier of her songs never loses commercial appeal.
'Lungs' is somewhat of enigma. Generally there are two types of 'good' albums in this world. There's the albums that play like greatest hits compilations, where every track is solid, catchy, and instantly memorable, then there are the albums that need to be experienced from start to finish, taken as a package to be completely understood and fully appreciated. 'Lungs', however, appears to want to do both. Whether or not it succeeds will ultimately fall to personal opinion, but objectively speaking it certainly seems to tick all the boxes. Certain tracks hold their own magnificently well when taken out of context ('Howl'), while others seem to work together to create a permeating feeling of other-worldliness that none of them could do on their own ('Drumming', 'The Girl With One Eye').
While not every track on 'Lungs' is an instant classic, and it's occasional dips into the murky depths of self-indulgence might be too much for some, it's very existence is evidence of something positive. It's interesting, it's different and more importantly, even though I've mentioned it's overtly artistic 'up its own hole-ness' at least twice, it does it in a very commercially accessible way, which is perhaps a bold step in the right direction for the unfortunate school of Bjork and Bush. It also takes on the responsibility, perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not, of destroying what the requirements for pop music success are in the eyes of others. Welschs lyrics are probably where she shines most, but some are so deliciously dark, vivid and vicious you'd be forgiven for thinking them out of place in the ethereal sounsdscapes she creates, and more at home perhaps on the angst-ridden post-punk records of 2004.
So the question remains, should you buy 'Lungs'? Yes, yes you should. Even if it's too much for you at times, when Florence gets it right, she gets it very right and there's enough middle ground covered here to keep hundreds of different tastes satisfied, so there's a good chance you'll fall in love with something about her. Besides, for once the hype machine might be right. Florence Welsch may one day write a masterpiece, you best jump on the bandwagon now while there's still room.