The powerful set of lungs on this album belong to one Florence Welch and she is both boldly passionate and emotionally vulnerable. She’s all the rage in the U.K. (and undergoing the requisite backlash) and converting U.S. listeners with a packed-to-overflowing SXSW performance and raves in mainstream magazines like People.
Florence possesses a richly aching, tensely bittersweet, mid-range voice that she uses to dynamic effect. She pushes, twists, and airily swoops through her songs, sometimes perilously close to the edge of falling off-key due to the intensity of her declarations, but she always maintains a cool-flame poise as she sings about life and love’s uncertainties.
Lungs showcases Florence’s dramatic voice as an instrument that the other instruments follow, from the urgent, rhythmic drums on “Drumming Song” to the fluid harp runs on “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)”. Her emotional turmoil is the focus of the songs and she employs several vocal strands that weave in and out of the music, supported by kinetic drum beats and delicate harp notes.
The 60s-tinged opener “Dog Days are Over” starts off calmly, but brightly with harp plucks and handclaps and Florence’s brandied tone, but then quickly builds up in tempo and force, with a gospel-like push to Florence’s exclaiming vocals. The nuanced start gets chucked in favor of Florence going for the gusto, and while it pays off for sheer vocal bravado, it doesn’t leave room for the song to breathe.
The changeable “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)” morphs from New Wave pop by way of Chairlift to a tent revival chorus, all shining-eyed fervor, with Florence in thrall, crying out “This is a gift / It comes with a price / Who is the lamb / and who is the knife?” “Kiss with a Fist” gamely takes on garage rock and British songbirds like Kate Nash with its casual lyrics delivery and the fast-tempo, The Ramones-like grimy guitars. A kicky drumstick rhythm and bashed cymbals galvanize Florence’s tossed-off sing-song ode to domestic violence (“You hit me once / I hit you back / You gave a kick / I gave a slap…”)
The tense, propulsive “Drumming Song” is mesmerizing for its simplistic rhyming lyrics, steady emotional and instrumental pull, and Florence leading the way, singing about the beating of her own heart, repeating the mantra “Louder than sirens / louder than bells / sweeter than Heaven / and hotter than Hell.” The heartacher “Cosmic Love” is sonically dreamy, but lyrically bittersweet with heavenly harp flourishes accompanied by an undertow of a chugging beat and strong drumming and the bleak lyrics “The stars, the moon / they’ve all been blown out / You’ve left me in the dark / No dawn, no day / I’m always in this twilight / in the shadow of your heart.”
A gospel-like vibe shines forth on “You’ve Got the Love” as Florence’s bruised, slightly hoarse voice lifts up in praise, pouring out her emotions and backed by a choir, synths, and limpid runs of harp as she exults “Time after time I think Oh, Lord, what’s the use? / Time after time I think it’s just no good / ‘cause sooner or later in life / the things you love you lose / but you’ve got the love to see me through.”