Music Reviews

Florence and the Machine Lungs

(Island) Rating - 6/10

Lungs, the debut album from London-based Florence and the Machine, will undoubtedly recall an explicit familiarity in most listeners. It’s not so much that they follow in the footsteps of any one band, but more that they ride a general trend in music today. You know, the crescendoing strings and cascading drums, the drama and bombast – without a second thought, one’s immediate notion might be the Arcade Fire. But in fact, the theatrical scope of all this musical choreography, with Florence Welch’s firm, soulful voice at the center of it all, has more in common with the more grandiose tracks on Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.

Like an over-zealous musical, it can all get a bit tiring after awhile, and Florence and the Machine in some ways cradle their open-hearted melodrama to a fault. But it’s also probably the very reason this review is being written at all, so credit should be given to the band for finding success in unbridled emotion, no matter how contrived it sounds.

And that’s just the problem. These songs are too well-crafted and precise to pass as legitimately emotional. They’re overproduced, scaled-up. And the kicker of it all is that Florence and the Machine don’t need all this extravagance to cover up some hidden weakness. They are actually very good at writing pop songs.

Take album opener Dog Days Are Over. Welch’s voice is slinky and blues-laden, and the minimalist piano behind it volleys her voice back, almost acting as a subtle reverb in the distance. But then, the band smears it with a silly clap-clap rhythm and cheery ukulele, turning it into a cutesy take on Feist’s 1234 before the deafening, overcompensating bass drum kicks in.

The next song, Rabbit Heart, is an unmistakably catchy melody that once again is placed in a room with many a musical paunch. When Welch sings, “I must become a lion hearted girl/Ready for a fight/Before I make the final sacrifice”, I half-expected the third line to read “final countdown” before a dramatic synth line took over.

The reason, probably, that I sound so harsh here and yet maintain an above-average rating for Lungs is because I am frustrated by this band. These songs are almost all well-crafted at their core. This kind of musical posturing can be expected by a band with no songwriting sense, but Florence and the Machine don’t need it. These songs probably sound otherworldly when played live, but the over-laden stylization actually fills Lungs with unnecessary fat. Welch and her band need to let themselves breathe a bit more when they head back to the studio.