Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Taking soul and rock into the jungle with Florence + the Machine

It was quite some time ago that Scott told me to buy Florence + the Machine’s album, Lungs, which I did and I remember thinking at the time that it was pretty good but, back then, I was listening to new music at such a phenomenal rate that it somehow merged into the mix of a whole lot of other new things that I was discovering at the time. But, when I saw a video clip of ‘Drumming Song’ from the album on rage over the weekend, I was inspired to go back to it and give it a proper hearing today.

Florence + the Machine is, in essence, Florence Welch with a group of musicians backing her on guitar, drums, keyboards and harp. Her soul-inspired rock has a wonderful muscle to it, but, thanks to the magical tinkling of the harp, always with kind of gentleness not too far beneath the sometimes aggressive façade with which her gutsy voice always presents us.

Nowhere is this more potent than in the album’s opener, ‘Dog Days are Over’, where the plucky power of Florence’s voice sets things often and running, with its promise of things to be reckoned with. There’s a snarl in these songs that both frightens and entices you, like in ‘Howl’, with its hypnotic drumbeat; or in ‘Kiss with a Fist’ with its disturbing observation that “A kick in the teeth is good for some/a kiss with a fist is better than none” to screeching electric guitars; or the anguished blues in ‘Girl with one Eye’ where we really do believe her when she sings “Get you filthy fingers out of my pie/I’ll cut your little heart out because you made me cry”. ‘Cosmic Love’ is almost Wagnerian in its symbolism of love finding its place in darkness and death; but it’s a place where the wild heart of the music still beats with feral passion. It’s like Isolde’s Liebestod remixed for a rock opera.

But ‘Drumming Song’ is, for me, the highlight of this album, with its driving, tribal beat – a beat that comes as much from Florence’s fire-blazing vocals as from the wild drumbeat. This is music that stirs you and excites you, draws you into its ritual fire dance – you know you’re going to get burned, but you go in anyway.

Lungs is not tame music – the voice is gutsy, the beat is gutsy, the words are gutsy. Somehow, it manages to push the envelope of soul and rock and to take both into places that probably neither ever thought they would go – a place much more primal, where wild animals prowl the jungles, and where betrayal and loss lead to the shedding not only of tears, but of blood as well.

A belated thank you to Scott for this fantastic recommendation.

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