Freelance music editor based in Bristol and Cornwall. If you see me shout as I’ll probably have my headphones on.
Ahead of their headline set at Boardmasters next week, we take a look at some of the band’s best tracks through the years
Florence + The Machine have dominated the music scene since the release of their first album, ‘Lungs‘, in 2009. With hits like ‘Rabbit Heart (You Hold Me Up)‘, ‘Dog Days Are Over‘ and ‘You’ve Got the Love‘, it’s not a surprise that if you can name a Florence + The Machine song, it’s probably from that album.
However, the band have gone through several different iterations since their inception. The signature sound of Florence Welch’s vocals has never changed but the guitar-heavy tracks from ‘Lungs‘ have ebbed and flowed with the different albums.
Welch’s songwriting has become more introspective over the years as she opens up about family troubles (as seen in her song ‘Grace‘ from 2018’s ‘High As Hope‘ about her sister), her alcoholism (the euphoric anthem ‘Shake It Out‘ from 2011’s ‘Ceremonials‘ deals with hangovers) and anxiety (‘Free‘ from their latest album ‘Dance Fever‘).
But despite these heavy topics, her storytelling has always been one of beauty. Weaving fantastical narratives alongside recurring themes, Welch proves that even without the drums, guitars and harps, her songs are poetry. Here’s a round-up of some of the very best of Florence and the Machine tracks to either make you fall back in love with the band or prove to you why they are a perfect tonic for any mood.
‘Howl‘ – ‘Lungs‘, 2009
Very much overlooked by people, ‘Howl‘, encapsulates why the band’s debut album is so brilliant. It tells the story of a feral beast who wrestles with being so completely in love with someone that it tears them apart.
Like much of ‘Lungs‘, the song relies heavily on the drums and guitar, rooting the band firmly in the rock genre. However, it is the songwriting that is what makes this song stand out.
Taking attributes from the gothic genre and with some similarities to Angela Carter’s stories (such as The Company of Wolves and The Tiger’s Bride), ‘Howl‘ showcases Welch’s incredible writing style; telling an entire story in a three minute song.
‘Girl With One Eye‘ – ‘Lungs‘, 2009
Sticking with the gothic genre, ‘Girl With One Eye‘, is a cover of a song by an obscure punk band called The Ludes that Florence performed with earlier in her career.
Although she did not write the song, to include it on the album was a brilliant idea for the band as it fits seamlessly into the track listing. There is a pent up rage that builds and builds within the track, culminating in an euphoric release which you can’t help but shout along to.
‘Only If For A Night‘ – ‘Ceremonials‘, 2011
It’s always a worry when a band has to follow their debut album with something that is bigger and better. But those fears were appeased when Florence + the Machine released their sophomore ‘Ceremonials‘.
The opener, ‘Only If For A Night’ begins with a church bell-like piano riff before Florence enters with her haunting vocals. Based on a vivid dream Welch had of her dead grandmother, there is a sense of surrealism to the song.
Employing themes of the gothic once more, the track feels grandiose, vocally and melodically, moving away from the heavy guitar sounds of ‘Lungs‘ and focusing more on the softness of the piano and her vocals.
‘Never Let Me Go‘ – ‘Ceremonials‘, 2011
I’m not sure where to even start with this song.
Quite possibly the best track the band has ever written, ‘Never Let Me Go‘ employs both the piano-led sound common on this album as well as the theme of water which is a recurring plot point in many of their ‘Ceremonials‘ tracks.
The song is a sweeping and striking ballad, however, the band subverts the traditional power ballads of the 80s and creates something eerie and gospel-like.
With repetitive backing vocals and culminating in an explosion of sound, the song is in keeping with the band’s eccentricities, playing with neo-gothicism and hymn-like melodies, and that makes it all the more interesting.
‘What Kind of Man‘ – ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful‘, 2015
The first release off the band’s third album, ‘What Kind of Man‘, marked a change of sound from their previous release.
Returning to the heavy drum sound of ‘Lungs‘, ‘What Kind of Man‘ opens with Florence’s sneering vocals as she disparages against an unknown lover and then progresses into the frantic sound so reminiscent of the band’s debut album.
A foot-stomping, head-bobbing, sing it at the top of your lungs song, ‘What Kind of Man‘ was a burst of energy, making the band’s return for the first time in four years as welcome as ever.
‘Big God‘ – ‘High As Hope’, 2018
Moving back to the piano-led songs of the band’s sophomore album, ‘High As Hope‘ once again proved the versatility of Florence + The Machine.
Of the song, Florence said it’s about “obviously, an unfillable hole in the soul, but mainly about someone not replying to my text”. Taking such a basic idea and turning it into this grande song is what makes the band so interesting.
‘Big God‘ uses sweeping instrumentals accompanying Welch’s signature vocals to make a statement. It’s all-encompassing and the variety in pitch which Welch utilises is entrancing. There’s a sense of distortment to the melody at times, particularly at the end of the song, which creates a tense atmosphere that is completely addictive.
‘The End of Love ‘- ‘High As Hope‘, 2018
Similar to ‘Only If For A Night‘ in the piano-led opening and reminiscent of ‘Never Let Me Go‘ in terms of its ballad sound, ‘The End of Love‘ is, in one word, beautiful.
There’s an expansiveness to the song with the first minute purely instrumental, before the track welcomes Florence. Like several of the band’s songs, ‘The End of Love‘ breaks the fourth wall as she sings: “I dreamt last night of a sign that read ‘The end of love’ / And I remember thinking / Even in my dreaming / It was a good line for a song.”
The song ebbs and flows, employing varying pressure to the sound that builds and then recedes. It’s not until the end of the song that Florence gives us the release with which we crave and which makes the crescendo sound even sweeter.
‘Choreomania‘ – Dance Fever, 2022
This album comes from Welch’s fascination with choreomania, a social phenomenon in early modern Europe that involved groups of people dancing erratically
There is a sense of freedom to this album which is prominently seen in the track, ‘Choreomania‘. Leaning more into an indie pop sound, the track also feels slightly nostalgic as lyrics such as “I’ll be your demon daddy” give the song a gothic feel while also giving Florence the chance to go into a lower register, reminiscent of ‘Girl With One Eye‘.
Despite the nostalgic feel, there is a uniqueness to the track as it opens, for the first time since the band started releasing music, with Florence talking to the listener. Florence entwines the storytelling of the narrative with the melody of the song as the lyrics refer to dancing yourself to death while the tempo increases, as though you’ll be dancing yourself to death to this very song.
After two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, Dance Fever encapsulated exactly what we all needed – freedom.