Florence Welch releasing an album entitled ‘Lungs’ may strike you as the equivalent of Martin Clunes releasing an album called ‘Ears’ or Katie Price releasing an album called ‘Boobs’: she certainly does have quite the pair. And her tremendous airbags are used mostly for the good on her debut album, the review of which comes limping in lamer than a one-legged donkey in a neon bumbag, weeks after the event of its release. Having blogged repeatedly about her in the past, when we had a more respectable amount of finger-pulse connection, our excitement was running high about the promise of a full-length offering from the tangerine-headed prodigious young foghorn. And with exquisitely-crafted statues of 4-minute pop gold ‘Dog Days Are Over’ and ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’ bedecking the record, it would have been hard for it to disappoint; an album full of these sonic gems would have earned a place in the Top One of the greatest records committed to disc (involving a harp and sung by someone whose name isn’t Joanna).
But an album of wall-to-wall styled messy-choppy harp exuberence this is not, nor was it meant to be; the album is layered, and we can track Florence’s metamorphosis from sketchy garage outfit, through her punk phase, fledging into a shouty savant siren, all rumbling and controlled rage, dark and polished as a beetle shell. This progression is made the more obvious for those willing to shell out the extra £3 for the Deluxe Version, which draws for its extra padding on early demos and remixes of the stronger songs, like a mosquito with self-esteem issues, or a dog licking its own balls. It’s a progression that others in less of a hurry to reap the hurricane of hipster hype would have perhaps tracked over 2 separate albums, but with Time Magazine’s winged chariot and a pre-emptive Brit Award looming large, we find on Lungs a veritably scrapped together patchwork quilt of styles (which, if the image is too wholesome and unFlorentine, is then used to throw a body into a lake).
It’s not hard to see why this album has had the blogosphere, the critics, and the Guardian supplementeers salivating into their mochachinos: Florence Welch has revealed herself in possession of the best melodic piano-/harp-pop sensibilities working in the world today, coupled with a darkly poetic lyricism; and the production on the more epic tracks provides the perfect theatrics for the most glorious of controlled explosions that is That Voice. One track which didn’t make the cut for the B-side material is her cover of Beirut’s Postcards From Italy, but you can hear Zach Condon’s phrasing undulating gently through the record, especially on the exclaimed highs on ‘Howl’. Endearding touches humanize the woman behind the Machine, like the extra ‘w’s she adds to the R-words on ‘Hurricane Drunk’, which will probably earn the ‘British Eccentric’ crown passed on from Kate Bush. Ghoulish warewolf narratives and dubiously-conceived paens to domestic violence notwithstanding, Florence’s greatest triumphs are her plinky harp ditties which her voice manages to whip up into anthems; ‘Dog Days’, ‘Rabbit Heart’, and ‘Hurricane Drunk’ are the three standout tracks, closely followed by the pared-back but jauntily percussive ‘Two Lungs’, the chorus of which should be enough to bag the Mercury alone, if the criteria were ‘originality plus likeliness to stick in one’s head’ and not ‘sod this let’s just give it to the one no-one thinks is going to win’. Ms. Welch may not have produced a bag of Rabbit Hearts, but she has sufficently pulled the rabbit out of the hat to offer up the most impressive album of the year so far.