Florence Welch and her Machine are back with the follow up to their 2009 release, Lungs. After being hotly tipped by many to do big things, Florence + The Machine scored a UK number one album, performing well in other European territories as well as down under. It seems this time, Flo and the crew have their sights set on bigger things.
I say this for a number of reasons. Firstly, Paul Epworth returns to handle the production and I respect him greatly as a producer, but here, he has made everything sound so epic, at times it feels we might be listening to the soundtrack of a certain Hollywood blockbuster about vampires starring Robert Pattinson. I don’t deem this as being bad necessarily, it just felt at times that the epic goth-ness of the album seemed too much for me. In the context of the album, by the time I got to “Spectrum,” I felt a little bored and found my attention was drifting from the album, only saved by a very nice harp breakdown.
The other reason I say they have their sights set on bigger things is because – and stop me if I’m reading too much into this – Florence has been borrowing from the R&B Movement, particularly the likes of Drake and The Weeknd. The album opener “Only If For A Night” feels like an atmospheric and reflective track that Drake would have on his upcoming set and “Seven Devils” sounds like something The Weeknd would lose his mind over. [Of course, we've already been made aware of what The Weeknd can do with Florence in his remix of "Shake It Out," the original being a huge track with a rather cool groove of it's own and a well written song.] Add to all of this the bluesy “Leave My Body,” in particular the vocal cues she takes from Abel Tesfaye’s work, and you have something that will probably cross over into that “hipster R&B” fans music collection.
The best way to describe the chunk of this album is a night at a big cathedral; that night probably being Halloween. Subsequently, we are at times transported to the graveyard and up a tree of said cathedral at times too. Take for instance “Seven Devils.” I dare you to watch a scary movie and then lie down in your bed in a house alone with all the lights off and put your headphones on to listen to this. It develops very slowly and has sinister string and harp stabs, but essentially is a spooky-as-hell track that is put together marvellously. Definitely a standout, if not for scaring the life out of you.
“Lover To Lover” keeps it in church with it’s Gospel undertones, the melody and chords reminiscent of something the early Gospel music movement may have spawned; perhaps it’s the use of the word ‘salvation’ that really tips it over the edge into that territory, but the drops and builds in the track were definitely all Pop. “What The Water Gave Me” handles dynamic shifts equally effortlessly and sounds more like a Gregorian choir, with the track having a particularly nice opening that builds into a steady beat. The ’80s is strong on this piece too.
I feel like I don’t have to mention the by now cliche (and a little lazy) comparison to Kate Bush and yes, there were points on the album when I thought it too, but minus the huge reverb on everything some of the ’80s influences are a little more subtle. “Breaking Down” for instance is built upon a chord progression that Tears For Fears would have been proud of, whilst the wonderful “Never Let Me Go” moves into Enya territory towards the end, with it’s repeated title and ocean of vocal stacks. Prior to this moment, the track is a very well written piece with the production framing the melody and lyrics perfectly, and it was by far my favourite song on the album [not just because of the Enya moment].
Unfortunately, there are moments when the album fails to keep my interest and even begins to annoy me a little [ and I'm annoyed that I'm annoyed]. “All This And Heaven Too” was, I thought, a decent track but the nice chord changes and well defined sections via the melody are buried under reverb, over production generally and the harp overkill grinds my gears at this point. The chorus reminds me of something The Shirelles may have pulled out in their day, but is too Florence-fied for the song to shine through properly and although I appreciate it, the album starts to feel too formulaic with one song beginning to mesh into another. In “Heartlines” the only thing of note was percussion that sounded inspired by Bollywood maestro music director A.R. Rahman, and “No Light, No Light” just feels like filler – however is closest to the output of Lungs.
All in all, I expected a little bit more this time round from Florence + The Machine, and although they haven’t abandoned their debut album sound completely, I feel they move in the right direction – but just stayed in the area for too long. There are some really good songs on this album, some of them work really well with the production, and others leave me wishing they hadn’t gone so hard on the reverb settings, although hearing the acoustic versions on the deluxe is a nice little touch.
One thing is for sure, Florence + The Machine stick out stick out like a not so sore thumb in the musical landscape. In times when every Tom, Dick and Harry sounds like the next Tom, Dick and Harry, Florence Welch takes the influences of her respected elders and peers and brings forth something creative and individual. That is something you have to respect.