I first saw Florence and her machine in 2008, just after she’d released her first single Kiss With A Fist, and she was supporting MGMT. At that time, MGMT were huge, riding high on the brilliance of their debut album which seemed to capture the mid-noughties insouciance and summer vibe. The audience at that particular gig however weren’t feeling quite so chilled out when they kept everyone waiting an hour and a half after Florence’s short set. We were in the London Astoria, a wonderful old venue and cornerstone of London’s then gay scene, now sadly demolished to make way for Crossrail. Florence, who hardly anyone had heard of that point, was absolutely crazy bonkers. She had an empty stage, just her and her boombox (the erstwhile “machine”) yet she somehow managed to fill it with sheer psyched-out personality. She performed Kiss and a couple of other songs, which I can’t recall, but well have been early versions of tracks on this, her debut album, but she mainly stuck in my mind from her running round and round in circles, literally turning herself into a whirling dervish, until she fell over from dizziness. We weren’t quite sure what to make of it, but in the intervening loooong gap before MGMT finally got their act together and came on (and were quite brilliant in a stoner kind of way), we wished for more Florence flouncing.
Kiss With A Fist is quite DIY, quite punky, lots of energy and in-yer-face young womanhood, its great, I love it. I’m sure there are other songs, but I don’t personally know of them, that offer the edict: “a kiss with a fist is better than none.” Its brave stuff. And much like other independent female songwriters that have not only been unafraid to wear their heart on their sleeve, but also don’t feel bound to only sing songs with subjects like hearts and sleeve in them- Kate Bush is the obvious and common comparison, but Sinead O’Connor or Patti Smith come to mind.
She has a powerful distinctive vocal, a way with words – last year she published a book of her song lyrics – but for me it’s the musical arrangements that makes the album most interesting. Its not been over-produced, it sounds a little raw and earthy in places, there’s liberal use of brass section, a harp here and there, some serious fuck-off drums, so we don’t get a predominance of say, guitar like Alanis Morrissette or Sheryl Crow, or piano for Tori Amos.
Some of the strongest songs here were also the singles: Dog Days Are Over, Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) and Girl With One Eye being top of the tree, but great supporting stuff from Hurricane Drunk, Cosmic Love and her cover of You Got the Love.
The last (and second) time I saw Florence + the machine it was last summer when she was supporting The Rolling Stones. It’s fascinating to see what she’s become, commanding multi-night stadium shows herself in those intervening 10 years.
Best Bits: Girl With One Eye – it’s special, uniquely Florence
Genre: Indie Pop Queen
Like This, Try This: Review of that infamous MGTM concert with Florence in support