If you frowned and thought, Florence and the who? when you read the name, don’t worry – that’s the same response that Florence & Co drew from audiences at about this time last year. But the oddball singer (born Florence Leontine Welch) and her indie pop outfit have quickly become bona fide sensations; you’re equally likely to hear their music blaring out of a radio as you are to hear it playing in some hipster nightspot.
Strangely, it’s been a while since the Blighty has produced an unashamedly poncey chart artist. So the global breakthrough of Welch (and her Machine) was good news all round. The 25-year-old singer is the latest in a long line of British lady-eccentrics with a penchant for tribal drum-thwacking and whirling-dervish dance moves (see also: Kate Bush, Bat for Lashes).
Her debut album, Lungs (2009), aligns delicate, Joanna Newsom-style orchestrations with pounding rhythms, and while Welch’s emotive singing style sounds like honking to some, her anthemic choruses exert the same kind of sing-along pull as a-ha’s “Cry Wolf”. Following the runaway success of Lungs, Welch indulged all her wildest musical fantasies on the band’s follow-up album, Ceremonials, in October last year. As Welch puts it, her aim was to make songs which are “dramatic and spooky”, and she has definitely succeeded. Indeed, there are times when you wish she’d dial down the spook-o-stat. It’s not that the drama or atmosphere is excessive; more that Welch relies on them too much. The album proceeds at a single pace – which, sadly, is mid, the least stimulating of all paces. And the producers have tried hard to make each track sound different – whether it’s adding sub-bass to “No Light, No Light”, or twinkly harps to “Never Let Me Go”.
It’s live, however, that Welch’s charms are most manifest. “She’s this weird, mystical cartoon character,” Brit DJ Huw Stephens muses, noting that the last time he saw her perform, she climbed up the lighting rigs and sang from the top of the tent. “You half expect her to come onstage with a million bunny rabbits,” he adds. And there’s already a clutch of Florence-inspired acts breaking out (Ellie Goulding, Marina and the Diamonds). With inputs by Eddy Lawrence
Ceremonials, Florence & The Machine, Universal (CD) R295 (also in deluxe CD edition R2,915 and on vinyl, R1,252). For MP3 downloads, $7.99 (about R425) on iTunes, or $4.99 (about R265) on Amazon.
By Sophie Harris on January 05 2012 6.30pm