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Florence And The Machine

Drawing a line through KATE BUSH, SINEAD O’CONNOR, PJ HARVEY and a plethora of genre-stretching female Brit stars that have cropped up since the millennium, the fearless and feisty FLORENCE + THE MACHINE (aka Florence Welch and Isabella “The Machine” Summers) have taken the globe by storm. A heady cocktail of AOR, gospel/soul and baroque-pop, the lady from London (born 28th August 1986 in Camberwell) has been on the crest of a wave since her first two albums topped the charts.
Formed initially as Florence Robot/Isa Machine, after Welch had watched her first group, Ashok, flounder in their attempt to get their jazz-funk CD (“Plans”) past promo stage in 2007, she would, in turn, take closing song `Happy Slap’ to its ultimate, PJ HARVEY-esque existence: albeit with a fresh title, `Kiss With A Fist’. Released as the F+TM debut 45 for Camden’s Moshi Moshi independent, the punky record almost landed the girls a Top 50 spot. Having already broken free from her contract with Ashok, Florence had been taken under the wing of Mairead Nash (one-half of Wonky pop DJ duo, Queens Of Noize), who set about encouraging her unmistakable vocal chords.
`Dog Days Are Over’ and an early download version of `You’ve Got The Love’, convinced the bosses at Island Records (Universal in the States) to give her “lungs” a chance. Backed by co-composer, Isabella (keyboards) and others, including Robert Ackroyd (guitar/vocals), LUNGS (2009) {*8} was indeed the title of her James Ford/Paul Epworth/Steve Mackey-produced debut set. Bolstered by a string of classy hits (all of the above plus `Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’, `Cosmic Love’ and `Drumming Song’), Florence’s emotional confessionals were essential to her mesmerising stage shows.
That difficult second album syndrome was cast aside with CEREMONIALS (2011) {*8}, another dramatic, angst-ridden set that tied in the doomed despair of ADELE and the sweeping spirit of SIOUXSIE. Penned with either Isabella or Paul Epworth, her infectious passion was felt on the likes of big hitters, `What The Water Gave Me’, `Shake It Out’ and the chart-topping `Spectrum (Say My Name)’. Under the spotlight and winning a number of awards (more if the pesky ADELE had not been around), the almost obligatory MTV UNPLUGGED (2012) {*5}, unsweetened an up-to-now, glorious career. Incidentally, check out also: F&TM’s covers of `Halo’ (BEYONCE), `Flakes’ (MYSTERY JETS), `Hospital Beds’ (COLD WAR KIDS) and `Addicted To Love’ (ROBERT PALMER).
It’s safe to say (and don’t whisper any of this to LONDON GRAMMAR), that Florence “Lungs” Welch could belt out a phone directory and still come up trumps, her talent is such that no matter the long wait for fresh material, her Midas touch would still prevail. Four months short of four years, and with Markus Dravs behind the mixing desk (and a few co-credits), the hyperbole of chart-topper HOW BIG, HOW BLUE, HOW BEAUTIFUL {*7} was over bar the shouting in summer 2015. Her endearing shyness uncomfortably revealed on a promotional stint on the Graham Norton TV show, one still marvels at her achievements so far in a music world so up it’s own arse it’s stuck in an X-Factor time-warp. Admirably, here, the modern-day JUDIE TZUKE (or a rawk BEVERLEY CRAVEN) reeled in her audience with her bombastic, shimmering larynx, performing a widescreen range of gothic gospel, folk-blues and chamber-pop on the deepest cuts `What Kind Of Man’, `Ship To Wreck’ (the cheery hit single), `Delilah’ and the title track.
Kept off the transatlantic top spot by DRAKE’s “Scorpion” album, FLORENCE + THE MACHINE’s fourth studio set, HIGH AS HOPE (2018) {*6}, was probably not what the doctor ordered. The introspective and confessional record revealed her teenage eating disorder (`Hunger’ – her “kind of emptiness”), and that substituted starvation for the need to be loved and not alone. Flo’s passionate highs and autumnal lows were, of course, frankly sung in almost autobiographical font (her book “Useless Magic” was due out), and if she could help listeners/fans come to terms with various addictions, heartbreak and loss of spirituality, then one supposed she was doing her job. But this was an album, not a book of songs; surely made for the pleasure of others. Somehow her literate linear and narrative nuances didn’t gel with sparse accompaniment; all but the K BUSH-like `Big God’ (ft. Kamasi Washington on sax), `Patricia’, `Sky Full Of Song’ and `100 Years’ were anything to write home about.
© MC Strong/MCS Sep2013-Jul2018

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