Off the record: Lungs by Florence and the Machine

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September 27, 2010

6:12 PM

Few albums portray happiness as a “bullet in the back/ shot from a great height/ by someone who should know better than that,” but that is exactly what Florence and the Machine does in their debut, Lungs. Perhaps best known for the single “Dog Days are Over”, quickly becoming the favorite for TV spots and film previews, Lungs shows just how versatile the band’s sound really is.

Lungs was written by Florence Welch, the fiery front-woman with hair to match. Not surprisingly, it was inspired by a bad break-up, but what is surprising is how skillfully it conveys both darkness and a great sense of fun. The up-beat rock-number “Kiss With a Fist” begins “You hit me once/ I hit you back/ You gave a kick/ I gave a slap/ You smashed a plate over my head/ And I set fire to our bed,” leaving a listener a bit torn between dancing and calling 911. The soulful “Girl With One Eye” is quite literally about cutting out the eye of a girl. On “Hurricane Drunk”, Welch’s lyrics turn almost comical with her line “And in the crowd I see you with someone else/ I brace myself ‘cause I know it’s going to hurt/ but I’d like to think at least things can’t get any worse.” everyone has had similar encounters with exes, but rarely are they voiced with quite so much gusto as with Welch‘s substantial pipes. Lungs has great success portraying dark feelings in interesting and funny ways, and sometimes only on the third or fourth listening will you realize just how twisted some of the lyrics actually are.

Lungs has an odd sense of humor, but its amazing melodies add even more depth. Welch combines her sultry voice with her back up band the Machine, an interesting mix of old standbys like drums, piano, and guitar, but also harp and the occasional violin. The result is richly layered, and just as fun to listen to as Welch’s unconventional lyrics. In “Blinding”, strings and piano gradually build until thunderous drums erupt. Songs move seamlessly from veritable screaming matches to quiet and contemplative, creating an awe-inspiring combination of vocals and instrumentals that complement each other in surprising ways.

Despite the darkness purveying the album, it has proven to be completely addictive and incredibly fun to listen to. Funny and frightening, this music sneaks up on you in ways that most musicians would kill for. It is not so much a pop album as a symphony in the disguise of British indie-rock. And what a band it is. Expect great things from Florence and the Machine; unlike bad relationships, they certainly don’t disappoint.

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