Single Review: Florence + the Machine – ‘What The Water Gave Me’

“She doesn’t care if you get lost amidst the cacophony of sounds in the song – that’s probably what she aimed to do”


Digital Release: August 23, 2011

Physical Release: N/A

Florence + the Machine’s début album ‘Lungs’ did not reach the UK #1 spot until seven months after it’s initial release date, despite spending numerous weeks at the #2 spot, including five consecutive weeks behind ‘The Essential Michael Jackson’. This is one of the most curious things about Florence Welch and her band of players and producers: that she’s probably the most unconventional – and yet fruitful – UK artists ever picked up by the wave of Radio 1 hype. Far more interesting than the sudden favouritism of electropop ingénues (Little Boots, La Roux) and with more balls than any other soulful, big-voiced maiden (Adele, Duffy), her music boasted the great capacity to be both ethereal and darkly violent, and in her bid to break away from the likes of Lily Allen and the late Amy Winehouse’s startling candid approaches to love and betrayal as they broke down life’s troublesome times into tiny pieces and tossed them onto the floor for all to see, Florence Welch created her own world of neo-gothic/indie references; coffins, mythical creatures, blood, nature, and numinous wonderment – her view of life’s troublesome times were shards of blood-stained glass, thrown into a blinding light and left suspended, caught in a stasis while she hovered high over the reality of her native London – and her voice reached even higher.

And even though some of ‘Lungs’ didn’t quite seem to fit into Welch’s universe (the Steve Mackey-produced ‘Kiss With A Fist’ seemed like a half-arsed White Stripes tribute), she’s played new promotional single ‘What The Water Gave Me’ perfectly and chosen Paul Epworth (Cee-Lo Green, Plan B) to helm the production. A lesser talent might have fallen prey to such stylistic changes featured on ’What The Water Gave Me’ but Welch commands Epworth’s hi-fi production excellently; it’s the musical equivalent of a car crash – eerily silent at times but also hectic and manic. But something reassures you that you’ll make it out alive and with both ears in tact. Her voice provides the foundation that cements proceedings firmly in place before allowing everything to explode into a turbulent hurricane of spectral chanting and strumming. At this point she doesn’t care if you get lost amidst the cacophony of sounds in the song – that’s probably what she aimed to do.

And as with most of Welch’s songs, ‘What The Water Gave Me’ features a prominent crescendo throughout, and because of it being such an unorthodox structure, particularly when considering the structure of the majority of today’s successful songs, it can often lead the listener into a false belief that the song has no chorus or cohesion, but the song doesn’t measure in at five and a half minutes for nothing – those with the same patience and respect that Welch and Epworth gave the song when recording it will be repaid gratuitously when it all kicks off, suddenly making the song in it’s entirety even more impressive.

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  1. Silvio R

    OddOne, I have to say you have pinpointed her style. Right now, I believe she’s the one with the highest level of artistry around. I don’t mean that just as a singer-songwritter. There are many of those, and quite a few that are splendid. But what I get from Florence, is a sense of overwhelming. Not just musical, but also conceptual, visual. Few can accomplish that.

    I am not one to compare, but Lady Gaga comes to mind. She’s trying to do what Florence is doing. She’s trying to be overwhelming, and while I do respect her as an artist, her songs are more often than not catchy. I find that I have to listen more than once to Florence, if I am to capture everything she has to give. What The Water Gave Me is just that. A combination of music and concept that gives the listener a projection of another world. Something truly memorable.

  2. Dara Hickey

    I agree Silvio – she really has the whole package. When discussing ‘What The Water Gave Me’: 

    “It’s about water in all forms and all bodies. It’s about a lot of things; Virginia Woolf creeps into it, and of course Frida Kahlo, whose painfully beautiful painting gave me the title.”

    And it speaks volume about who she is as an artist and the depth she weaves into her music.

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