Florence and the Machine, Academy, Birmingham
Too many toffs on this magic roundabout
Sunday 08 February 2009
In 10 days' time, a couple of dozen artists will wake up in varying levels of excitement and trepidation, wondering if they'll be receiving a 12-inch statuette later that evening. Not Florence Welch. She, it has already been announced, is the winner of the Critics' Choice award at the Brits. And no, I wasn't consulted.
It's a microcosm, of course, of the smooth and easy path that life has unfurled before her. Yet another member of the Toff Rock freemasonry currently blighting the musical landscape, Welch didn't even have to teach herself how to write songs. In mid-December, Razorlight's Johnny Borrell revealed that he'd been penning a few FATM tunes but "was keen to distance himself from the project because he was worried his reputation could have a negative effect on Florence Welch's band" (NME). A month later, in a bit of desperate counter-spin reminiscent of the heyday of Alastair Campbell, Welch's people issued a statement to the effect that the Borrell songs probably wouldn't make it on to FATM's album.
And here she is now, waltzing into a juicy opening slot the NME's annual package tour, which is of course completely unconnected with the fact that her manager is one of (sometime NME scribes) Queens of Noize. Such mutual back-scratching one could possibly overlook were it not for the fact that Welch's material is almost entirely sub-Kate Nash (and as subs go, that one's dredging the Mariana Trench).
In person, Welch isn't as odious as the cultural phenomenon that spawned her. You could even say she's likeable, a vaguely ditsy, hippyish waif with flowing tresses of red hair, doing her bit to warm up an audience that still has dirty snow-slush clinging to its boots. And it's not that her music doesn't have some merits. For example, the slow tattoo which starts "Kiss with a Fist", the "controversial" debut single already rendered redundant four decades ago by the Crystals' "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)". Indeed, on tracks such as "Bird Song", I find myself tuning out Welch altogether and concentrating on the pounding of Christopher Lloyd Hayden, which can at times attain a hypnotic minimalism.
But the fact remains that Florence Welch isn't what she's being cracked up to be (which is, in certain quarters, "the new Janis Joplin", a truly ludicrous comparison). When she sings the trite nursery-rhyme lyrics of "My Boy Builds Coffins", there's a strain to her voice which the superficial mistake for soul, but which only makes me think of constipation. For all the cutesy, Magic Roundabout associations of the Florence part of FATM's name, it slowly dawns on you what the Machine part means: not a candy-striped carousel, but a relentlessly efficient generator of hype.
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