Nicholas Keevan reviews a British indie rock artist: Florence + The Machine.
Drop the name of Florence + The Machine (read “Florence and The Machine”) in Malaysia. What you are most likely to get is a blank stare, a puzzled look followed by questions such as “Is it a new cartoon show like Josie and The Pussycats?” In actual fact, Florence + The Machine is the stage name of British indie rock artist Florence Welsh, and to a lesser extent, her backing vocals. Notice the word “British”? I think you now have an inkling on why this name seems so alien. For a country formerly part of the British colony, Malaysia sure has left its British roots in the aspect of music. To be more specific, Malaysian radio stations seem to have a vendetta against music from the United Kingdom. I do not know the actual reason that most English radio stations here do not play British hits. Perhaps it is due to copyright or legal reasons. However, I am not going to rant and blame people for this. I think that we need more variety here in the Malaysia and escape the overload of American hits blasting out of our radios.
Florence + The Machine. I must admit guiltily that I actually discovered it from the iTunes store in the US. I usually browse through the iTunes charts to discover new music. When I saw this unfamiliar name, I immediately did a search on Youtube and found one of the weirdest music videos I have seen thus far. I did not fall in love with the song immediately, but after listening to it for a few times, “Dog Days Are Over” became amazingly catchy. Dog Days Are Over is Florence Welsh’s signature hit in most parts of the world, having it performed at the MTV Video Music Awards this year. Her amazing live rendition of the song captured the hearts and ears of millions of fans worldwide, myself included.
Florence + The Machine stands out because it tends to take a different take on music compared to other musicians. Her voice is extremely unique, and coupled with its eccentric music, it makes a sight for eyes sore from overexposure to Lady Gaga. Another reason why you should give Florence a listen is her ability to perform live. I must admit, her performance at Oxegen 2010, especially the rendition of Dog Days Are Over was spectacular. Many critics say that most mainstream artists are passed through auto tune and so many filters to iron out mistakes that audiences tend to cringe when they perform live. Florence Welsh does not need crazy attention seeking outfits to get noticed, her music does all the talking, and that is a mark of a true musical artist.
Of all her variety of repertoires, it is ironic that the song I find most meaningful is one originally by Florence. The song “You’ve Got The Love” is a cover of the original by Candi Staton. You’ve Got The Love bursts out with strong vocals at the beginning. Her voice is full of emotion as she sings “Sometimes I feel like throwing my hands up in the air, I know I can count on you.” It’s a feeling so many of us can relate to. Life definitely isn’t a bed of roses, with all the problems faced by each and every one of us. But you can’t just give up on life, amidst all the chaos and troubles in life, we need a saviour. It can be anything: God, friends, family, sports, food, or music. These elements of life keep us motivated to continue living life to the fullest.
Then comes the title verse of the song, “You’ve got the love I need to see me through”. My personal interpretation of this song is that Florence is singing about God’s love – how it soothes her, comforts her, but most of all, gives her strength to carry on even in the hardest of times. She describes the feeling that some of us would have experienced being at rock bottom in life. Perhaps it is the death of a loved one, or a burden filled with complications but unable to turn to anyone for help. My interpretation of the song is that in hard times like these, God or religion is the only one left for us to turn to for strength and fortitude. I quote from the song, “When food is gone, you are my daily meal. When friends are gone, I know my saviour’s love is real”. This lyrical ingenuity is very inspiring. Often in life, some people tend to forget about God or religion in good times where everything is fine and dandy. But when in dire straits, they return to God.
Another song that stands out in her debut album, Lungs, is “Dog Days Are Over”. While some describe this song as meaningless, I prefer to use the term eccentric. The opening melody with a harp is really very beautiful and easy on the ears. The meaning of this song remains vague to me. The first verse seems to describe someone who is in a dilemma, stuck between happiness and desolation, as well as a sense of being timid. There’s a line in this song, “With every bubble, she sank with a drink, and washed it away down the kitchen sink” that portrays a worse situation, gradually increasing in intensity as “she” begins to get weighed down with problems. Then, the chorus bursts in with a loud proclamation “The dog days are over! The dog days are done!” A paradigm shift? A twist of fates for this individual? Maybe turning over a new leaf in life? If we look at things realistically, everyone has their own conflicts and confusions in life. The only difference is that some people choose to wallow in self pity, while others choose not to be passive, but to be proactive and meet everything in their way head-on. The choice is yours. However, the remaining lines of the chorus make me do a double-take and look at it from a different angle. This song is possibly a fictitious tale, about exile and emigration from bad times to a better future. The phrase “Leave all your love and your longing behind, you can’t carry it with you if you want to survive” probably encourages us to move on with life, and stop dwelling in the past. In its entirety, it is extremely catchy, once you get past the insanity of it all.
As a whole, Florence + The Machine is a good break from the mainstream pop that we get from the radio. I won’t say that it is true music, because there is no real definition of “true music”, but what I will say is that she is definitely one artist you should pay attention to.
In the end, music is still a subjective art, open to countless interpretations by every individual. This is one of the factors that immortalises music as an art to stand the test of time.
Nicholas Keevan is an AUSMAT student at Sunway University. He enjoys defying clichés and stereotypes. Random sparks of insanity inspire him, and he appreciates good art in any form.