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COLUMN: As 'Lungs' turns 10, which should we celebrate more, its music or its artist?


Florence Welch of Florence and The Machine performs live on stage as part of the Apple Music Festival 2015 on Sept. 28, 2015 at the Roundhouse in Camden, London. Tribune News Service

Forget what you heard about Bach, Mozart and Schubert; on this day just ten years ago, music itself was created.

Okay, perhaps that’s hyperbole, but the tenth anniversary of British indie rock band Florence and the Machine’s breakout album “Lungs,” released July 3, 2009, warrants celebration.

Preceded by three knockout singles, the fiery “Kiss with a Fist,” the buoyant “Dog Days are Over” and the enchanting “Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up),” the album forged an instantly recognizable musical voice for the rising band and its lead songstress, Florence Welch. Fiery, punk-tinged and occasionally hymnal, “Lungs” was, and remains, a powerhouse of a debut album.

Carried by Welch’s emotionally raw lyrics and backed by an eclectic orchestra of strings ranging from harp to electric guitar, the band’s sound was unforgettable. The contrast between Welch’s melodic lyrics and the often forceful sound that underscored them perfectly mirrored the implicit duality of her ensemble’s name; the soft honesty of her own humanity against something harsher but equally invigorating.

In the summer of “Boom Boom Pow” and “Poker Face,” this gothic pop opus was a breath of fresh air.

When Welch and her band broke out, it was as Florence and the Machine, a name that grew from multiple iterations of failed branding. But through the days of Toxic Cockroaches, a fledgling punk band that never took flight, and Florence Robot and Isa Machine, a dynamic duo of Welch and her eventual backing vocalist and keyboard player Isabella Summers that rocked local pubs, Welch accumulated influences and cultivated her talents.

And by the time she rose to stardom at age 22, she did so as a beacon of growth, having risen from shoddy pub performances to pristine pop perfection.

Growth has remained an intrinsic part of Welch’s artistic identitythrough the years, a crux of her band’s music as vital as her own resplendent vocals. Looking back at “Lungs” ten years out, what’s perhaps even more remarkable than the album’s artistry is that it’s a reminder of its creator’s humanity. 

Welch’s music has attained a reputation as some of pop’s most poetic and spiritually resonant offerings, no doubt thanks to the searing honesty of her lyrics. Welch has honed her sound through subsequent albums  —  such as 2015's "How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful" and 2018's "High as Hope"  —  and blossomed into a deeply inspiring and hopeful artist, but that progression is especially notable given dark moments in her life.

Welch has been open publically about struggles with eating disorders and addiction. On “Lungs,” she sang honestly about abusive relationships — “a kiss with a fist is better than none” — the emptiness of unrequited love — ”the stars, the moon, they have all been blown out/you left me in the dark” — and the desire to drink herself to death—”you can’t save me now/I’m in the grip of a hurricane/I’m gonna blow myself away.”

For a singer whose early adulthood was dominated by a whirlwind of suicidal recklessness and substance abuse, Welch’s debut album feels like the work of an artist destined for the 27 club, not unlike her equally ethereal and sorely missed countrywoman Amy Winehouse.

But Welch's star burns brighter than ever a decade later, her music a poetically rapturous reminder of her humanity and darkest moments.

“It is an act of rebellion to remain present, to go against society’s desire for you to numb yourself, to look away,” she wrote in a June 30 essay for British Vogue. “But we must not look away.”

It’s the perfect coda to the first decade of exceptional art by a woman whose light serves as a beacon of hope for so many. Here’s to another decade.

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