2015, and Florence Welch and her machine are headlining Glastonbury and topping America’s Billboard 200, but it’s important to remember that this all started way back in 2009 with the release of their debut, Lungs. Unlike the band’s last effort, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, Lungs often feels like a DIY affair; the production drifts from squeaky clean to lo-fi sounds, despite the inclusion of producers Paul Epworth and Steve Mackey of Pulp.
With this comes Flo + and the Mac’s most ‘baroque pop’ sounding album to date. Whereas Ceremonials and How Big… have slowly seen the band drift towards a more typical pop sound, Lungs shows off songs such as ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’ and ‘Cosmic Love’ that prominently make use of the harp as well as various forms of percussion. ‘I’m Not Calling You A Liar’ is a slow melancholic number that’s driven by simple piano, harp and makeshift tambourine beats. Even the group’s reworking of Candi Staton’s 1986 song ‘You’ve Got The Love’ is given a Florence twist that pays off excellently, changing the disco number into something like a power ballad.
The album drifts slightly towards an indie rock sounds on ‘Kiss With A Fist’, with a punky, driving guitar riff and a pumping drum part. Florence’s vocals are less explosive than usual, with much of the lyrics seemingly sung through clenched teeth, almost reminiscent of the likes of Kate Nash. The following song ‘Girl With One Eye’ has a bluesy guitar lead, something rarely seen on a Florence and the Machine album, in a largely stripped back song, until the climax comes in, with crash cymbals and reverberating vocals from Florence that give the songs a formidable feel.
Lungs also holds a couple of very underrated tracks; ‘Howl’ is one song that incredibly was not released as a single. From Florence’s humble vocals in the verse the song’s verse to the literal howl in the chorus. The extent of Florence’s vocals is truly shown in this song, accompanied once again by those intense drums and Psycho like strings. ‘Hurricane Drunk’ has a steady beat and bass line that is one to nod your head to if nothing else. Unlike a lot of the tracks on this album, it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to grab your attention, despite Florence’s impressive vocal performance. Instead, it sits happily near the end of the album, beckoning in the listener to an impressive finale.
At the time of Lungs release, Florence and the Machine were part of a large group of emerging British indie solo singers and female fronted bands. La Roux, Little Boots, Duffy and the unfortunately named Marina and the Diamonds were all releasing successful music at the time. But somehow Flo and the Mac managed to secure Best British Album at the BRIT awards, most likely because Lungs is one of the few noteworthy pop albums of the year. Their performance at the MTV Video Awards the following year boosted ‘Dog Days Are Over’ up to the Billboard Top 30 and solidified a fan base in the United States. From thereon, the group’s popularity rose, taking them to where there are today. But while Lungs isn’t pop perfection, it still acts as a solid, grounded debut for the now sky-high band.
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