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Florence And The Machine
Lungs Charles Ubaghs , July 7th, 2009 09:17

Summer is upon us and after numerous lists, spurious awards and ones to watch features, the trio of ladies earmarked for major stardom in 2009 have finally released their debut LPs.

First out of the gates was Little Boots. Her video series of pop covers performed from the comfort of her bedroom may have piqued interest in the young lady from Blackpool, but while the release of Hands proves she's clearly a gifted pop pupil, Little Boots has yet to produce the brilliant pop statement many hoped for. Hairspray abuser Elly Jackson and silent co-conspirator Ben Langmaid may have been wildcards with their La Roux project, but the pair's eponymous LP has surprised more than a few critics with chart-conquering singles and one of the finer British pop debuts of recent memory.

With the blonde poppet and electro-redhead off and running, the spotlight now falls upon Florence & the Machine. Already a recipient of the Brit's Critic's Choice Award - a rather dubious honour that sees various industry types going pre-cog on the year ahead - young Florence Welch has proven to be a divisive figure for many. With a reputation for performing erratic, attention-seeking gigs with little more than a rubbish bin lid, early reports of the singer slotted her into the art-school wastrel category. Enter Mairead Nash, one half of ultra-scenesters/promoters the Queens of Noise, as her manager and Welch starts making like it's the 'New Rock Revolution' all over again with the indie-blues template of early singles 'Dog Days are Over' and 'Kiss with a Fist,' before finally springing her debut LP, the rather appropriately named Lungs, upon us.

Many have rushed to hand Welch the English leftfield singer/songwriter torch held aloft by Kate Bush and, more recently, PJ Harvey. In order to underline this tenuous link, tales of the singer's idiosyncrasies - silly costumes, wild stage behaviour and a childhood predilection for throwing herself out of trees - have piled up in the run-up to the album's release. Plus, with Razorlight's Johnny Borello reportedly lending his songwriting skills to Florence's machine (Borello ex machina?) and James Ford, Paul Epworth and Steve Mackey taking turns on production, the pieces have been carefully aligned to transform the '22'-year-old into a star palatable enough for earnest chin-strokers and the masses alike.

Those drawn to the prosaic garage stomp of Welch's early singles are in for a disappointment. 'Kiss with a Fist' and 'Dog Days' are stylistic anomalies on Lungs. The brief here is more Hounds of Lovethan Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. The wailing vocals, 'Running Up That Hill' drums and de rigueur harps are firmly in place, but like the catwalk knock-offs clogging up high-street clothing chains, Lungs looks the part from afar, but closer inspection reveals an assembly line product lacking the inspiration and craft of the original source material. The likes of 'Hurricane Drunk' opts for throwing every single thing against the wall until it splatters, but the final result only answers the never-asked question of what an art school Leona Lewis fronting trip-hop also-rans the Sneaker Pimps would sound like.

While Welch's vocal gifts are undeniably considerable, they're also stuck at 'bellow' on Lungs, with only the openings strains of highlight 'Between Two Lungs' offering momentary respite from the singer's vocal waterboarding. 'My Boy Builds Coffins' may reveal the full extent of the heavy-handed MOR brush that tarnishes the rest of the album, but it's the closing cover of Candi Staton's 'You Got the Love', that draws Welch and her machine's various malfunctions into the harsh light of day. Bereft of the tunes designed to showcase her sing them into submission tactics, Welch is left to bulldoze her way through an indie karaoke rendition of Staton's club anthem.

Yet even with the case for Welch as the new queen of quirk falling apart upon initial contact, the majority of Lungs suffers from the most elementary flaw: a simple lack of memorable songs. The high-street Kate Bush may temporarily have her time in the limelight, but even the best knock-offs end up in the rubbish pile, and Welch has yet to show that she's an exception to the rule.