Happy 10th Anniversary to Florence + The Machine’s debut album Lungs, originally released July 3, 2009.
Debut albums can be incredibly tricky things to navigate. On one hand, you have the freedom to completely be yourself and deliver something that is true to you. There are no proverbial chains restricting your process or tying you to your past. Your voice, should you have discovered its purpose at this early stage of the game, is completely yours to own and to do with what you want. If your newfound audience love it, then you have succeeded in gaining more than you previously had.
On the other hand, if for some reason they don’t take to what you are offering, then that will not only be your debut album, but it may also prove to be your final LP. The price of this untrodden path, it would seem, is somewhat unattainable, and just may be a one-off musical experience.
Luckily for us, Florence + The Machine were able to bless the world with their debut album Lungs—a thirteen-track affair (with eleven of the tracks co-written by Florence Welch herself) that delves into everything from rock, soul and a whole lot of indie pop. And whilst Welch is in a unique league of her own vocally, it would be hard not to draw inspiration, comparison if you must, from those that came before her, part Kate Bush, part Annie Lennox, and yet utterly Florence Welch. Not bad work for a then-fledgling singer-songwriter who at the time, was all of just 22 years of age.
The lead single “Kiss With A Fist” created some controversy at the time with the lyrics speaking to what appears to be domestic violence. Coupled with the somber tone of the lyrics, and a slightly aggressive sound deeply rooted in garage rock and elements of punk pop, Welch explained that the song was indeed not about domestic violence, but rather the strength and force that love can sometimes find two people engrossed in. The psychological aspect over the physical, a binding of emotions that firmly sits in fantasy, not reality. Whilst the song was a solid first single, both lyrically and musically, it failed to chart well.
Following in the footsteps of “Kiss With A Fist” was the second single “Dog Days Are Over,” a beautiful track that draws on the richness of indie pop, blues and even folk, which in turn, allows the vocal prowess and beauty of Welch’s voice to be placed on full display. The unexpected explosion of notes and sounds throughout the song also paved the way for a sound that would soon be firmly associated with the band. This single was the first time that the audience got to truly hear the ethereal, almost whimsical component to Welch’s voice, two qualities that would also stand in contradiction with her tone, a commanding force in its own right.
Upon closer listen to the album’s third single “Rabbit Heart (Praise it Up),” it is impossible to ignore the multi-layering of Welch’s vocals, giving the effect of a mass choir rolled into one hauntingly beautiful voice. Although the lyrics are shrouded in darkness (“This is a gift / it comes with a price / Who is the lamb / and who is the knife?”, it is again the contradiction of these lyrics, which are steeped in fear and coupled with an uptempo sound, that managed to prime the way for the band’s first bit of solid chart success, reaching # 12 in the UK charts.
Florence + The Machine were a welcome, if not slightly frenetic, change from the tabloid fodder that was engulfing fellow Brits like Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse at the time. Whilst both singers were delivering profound work even with all the turmoil that fame and the like was bestowing upon them, it was Florence Welch, the self-proclaimed geek with red hair and porcelain white skin, that was forging a path for a type of voice that had not been heard in quite some time. Hers is a voice that seems to call upon the past and yet is entirely entrenched in the present.
This maturity in her voice was never more evident than on the songs “Drumming Song” and the cover of Candi Staton’s “You’ve Got The Love,” both also released as singles from the album. With “Drumming Song,” a love song that swims in the awkwardness that love sometimes makes us feel, Welch conveys an intensity and desire that belied her two decades on this earth. “You’ve Got the Love,” a song of empowerment, again allows the then-novice Welch another opportunity to bring her voice and vulnerability to a well-loved, timeless classic, something that she does to perfection.
Given that nearly half the songs on the album were released as singles, it would be criminal to ignore the beauty and complexity of songs like “I’m Not Calling You A Liar,” “Cosmic Love” and the loss of love which “Hurricane Drunk” so painfully demonstrates. It is incredibly hard to imagine that someone so young was able to write about so much loss; loss of love, loss of one’s self, and yet still convey a type of positivity. The loss is temporary, but the love is for a lifetime, or so we are somehow led to believe if we look and listen a little deeper.
At first glance, it could have been easy to dismiss Lungs as yet another British band delivering the stock standard indie pop of the time, along with splashes of rock and punk wrapped up in a neatly produced album. In some ways, that isn’t such a far-fetched idea. With a production team that consisted of accomplished soundsmiths like Paul Epworth (Bloc Party), James Ford (Simian Mobile Disco, Arctic Monkeys), Stephen Mackey (Pulp) and Charlie Hugall (Halsey, Ed Sheeran) who also offered writing support, Lungs ensured that the group became something far greater than just another one-hit wonder. Both Ford and Mackey also brought invaluable experience as band members, giving way for both the technical and artistic perspectives to meet, creating an organic approach which guaranteed that this album was only going to ever be considered nothing short of superb.