Last year’s recipient of the inaugural Critics’ Choice award at the BRIT Awards was Adele, whose subsequent debut album tried to cover numerous musical bases to showcase her voice – and fell foul of thin songwriting. But, it sold by the truckload. It didn’t take a PhD in Cynicism to surmise that the gong had been invented to big up a newly signed, major label act, and duly ensure success.
This year’s Critics’ Choice winner is an altogether different proposition. After releasing a couple of stellar singles in 2008, Florence And The Machine seemed like the real deal – edgy enough for a cool indie crowd, but accessible to the culture sections of the Sunday newspapers – prior to the BRITs nod. And lynchpin Florence Welch would surely be less easily manipulated by faceless corporate moneymen. Happily, by nonchalantly walking the precarious tightrope between commercial appeal and that most nebulous of entities, critical approval, Welch has ensured this ballsy debut album delivers on both counts. ‘Lungs’ is rammed with silky soul, spiky ballads, raw blues and unashamedly big pop songs, all spiced with the singer’s trademark gothic humour and breath-stealing baritone.
Two tracks seem to perfectly sum up Welch’s precocious charm. On the skittering, hazy soul of ‘My Boy Builds Coffins’, she ominously croons about her man’s carpentry skills (“And one day he’ll make one for you”), while over gentle piano and luscious strings, she turns ‘I’m Not Calling You A Liar’ into a twisted, spectral lullaby. But ‘Lungs’ is not a one-woman show; the Machine coax and caress the best out their mistress, sounding like a healthier, happier version of the Bad Seeds.
Florence can play pop, too – both ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’ and ‘Hurricane Drunk’ strain at the leash to become smash-hit singles. The former sounds like the best bloody Texas song you’ve never heard – a line of superstar DJs are no doubt itching to bolt Balearic beats to its euphoric chorus. The latter is even better, with our heroine wrestling with her heartbreak as she threatens to “drink myself to death”. And, for anyone left still doubting this vast talent, ‘Lungs’ concludes with their storming version of ‘You Got The Love’, Welch going toe-to-toe with Candi Staton.
Summer has arrived, and with it a major new star.
Words: John Freeman