Skip to content

Celebrating 15 years of Florence and the Machine’s Lungs

Taking a look back on the album's 15th anniversary, Leo Hincks dives into the album's complex themes and highlights the moments that give the record its stellar significance.

By Leo HincksSecond Year, Theatre and Film

If you’ve had the opportunity to hear me rant about how much I love Florence and the Machine on any night out in Bristol - I deeply apologise. You are either an incredibly special person or you were cornered as I yapped, “I’m neck deep in her music right now” and “it’s like religious music without the guilt!” It is most likely the latter. Luckily for those who don’t know me, I appear to have been given a prestigious platform to air out my passion.

It’s now coming up to 15 years since Uni of Bristol’s very own nepo-baby released her debut album Lungs. The daughter of UOB’s vice-chancellor Evelyn Welch (who recently emailed student’s about how the university is taking a neutral stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict, despite the university’s ties to Israeli military arms suppliers) has proven herself a national treasure with her roaring hits and festival performances time and time again.

I wouldn’t argue that Florence’s music is underground, but I believe her discography is somewhat overlooked, which I would like to focus on in this article. To call Lungs a perfect album would be an understatement, it is a culmination of love, witchcraft and alcohol that show a band debut at the top of their game. I beckon you to breathe in, hold and exhale this album with me.

Lungs gave birth to hits like 'Dog Days Are Over', 'Rabbit Heart', 'Cosmic Love', 'Kiss with a Fist', and 'You’ve Got the Love'. These songs rightfully have been given their flowers, but the rest of the album deserves a whole enchanted garden.

'Howl' is when we really become exposed to Florence’s witchy, gothic imagery that she has become so recognised for. The song treats young love like a transformative curse, “Like some child possessed, the beast howls in my veins”. Welch’s heavenly vocals practically melt the sharp intensity of the song to create a perfect blend. The production of the song, with its synths and echoes, make any listener feel transported to the foggy Baskerville moors.

'Howl' is up there with Fiona Apple’s 'Werewolf' as one of the best songs about love and the mythical creature. Florence heeds a warning to the listener: “Be careful of the curse that falls on young lovers, starts so soft and sweet and turns them to hunters”, making it an ethereal companion to Kate Bush’s 'Hounds Of Love'.

Never underestimate this band’s use of percussion. 'Girl with One Eye' and 'Bird Song' establish an unbridled rage that is carried into her 2015 album How Big How Blue How Beautiful. These songs reveal a darker, unapologetic side to the band that a lot of artists would be too afraid to show. Only Welch could make yelling from the top her voice sound as satisfying as butter melting on a cauldron.

'Drumming Song' and 'Hurricane Drunk' show Welch jumping off into the deep ocean of chaos seen more in her 2011 album Ceremonials. Florence’s heart should be credited as an instrument within this album as it becomes “louder than sirens and louder than bells, Sweeter than heaven and harder than hell”. Welch, whilst not always in control of her feelings has no trouble describing them, “and I’ve never felt so alive and so dead”, she articulates the indescribable.

Between 'Two Lungs', the closest thing to a titular track, is one of the band’s most tender and vibrant love songs. In a discography that features songs of chaos, loss and even the devil, hearing a positive ode to love is a beautiful rarity (please see: 'No Choir', 'Free', 'Third Eye').

Welch sings about the exchanging of breath between two people, describing something between a spiritual connection and a simple kiss. “Between two lungs it was released, the breath that passed from you to me”. What’s refreshing is Welch isn’t disillusioned by love, she knows it may not be forever, but it is happening.

Arguably the best bridge of the album, “I have this breath and I hold it tight and I keep it in my chest with all my might, I pray to god this breathe will last” channels the energetic contentment of 'Dog Days' to a more personal level. I could attempt to use academic words and analyse the musical techniques but I really just want to say: "this song is so full of life and makes me want to scream with pure joy every time I listen to it!"

When Welch chooses to sing about happiness, it is the type of euphoric glee that can only elsewhere be found by running in a field of wheat or drinking cheap filter coffee from a train station in the middle of nowhere. We aren’t required to do either of these now that the band has encapsulated this feeling.

Juxtaposing this, 'Blinding', is an eerily atmospheric incantation about a limbo between breaking the spell of love and dealing with loss. You can hear tiredness in Welch’s voice, as if she has just been resurrected from her grave of devotion, “It seems that I have been held in a dreaming state, a tourist in the waking world, never quite awake”. In the distance you can hear the squawks of crows and laughter of witches, we are in Welch’s underworld.

It feels as if Welch is vocally contorting her body, ever so slowly, as she sings “shaking through my skull, through my spine and down through my ribs”. Fitting with the nature of Lungs, Welch deeply inhales on the final minute of this song: her use of breath has become a signature to some of her best songs like 'South London Forever'. Welch repeats “No more calling like a crow for a boy for a body in the garden”, accompanied by the plucking of strings, suspending the audience in her eldritch world.

Florence is popular for her loud, booming voice, so when she chooses to restrain this energy, it is incredibly moving. A drunken-melancholic standout of the album, 'Falling', seemingly argues that the dog days are not in fact over. Accompanied by harps and strings, Florence explains the many ways she has fallen in life, “out of taxis, out of windows too, fell in your opinion when I fell in love with you”. Fans of the band like to refer to Florence as some otherworldly goddess, but in 'Falling' these are not words of a powerful force, but the somber confession of someone in the smoking area at 3am.

The gut-punch of a bridge “I’ve danced myself up, drunk myself down, found people to love, left people to drown” feels like a bruise to the heart that we the listener revel in with the singer. The gentleness of her voice builds up into a louder cry, but it isn’t the loud belt that is effective but the quiet that follows. Welch closes the song softly re-admitting “sometimes I wish for falling, wish for the relief...”, whispering in our ear as she desperately holds onto us.

In these final lines, there is no machine, it is just Florence, as we sit with her, waiting for it all to pass. Welch recently celebrated her 10th year of sobriety, showing that no matter how far you fall, there is always time to get up. 'Falling’s' gentle melancholy seeps into her 2018 album High as Hope which, in my opinion (which changes every month), is her best album since Lungs.

Conveyed through the language of its songs, Lungs is essentially an album about drowning. Welch shows that we choose to drown ourselves in sorrow and chaos but also love and happiness. This is all essential to the human experience, we truly must drown ourselves in order to keep breathing.

Florence and the Machine will be performing the entirety of Lungs at the BBC Proms this September. I don’t care how many London Art foundation students I have to fight, I will be in attendance.

Unlike our University, including Florence’s mum, Evelyn Welch, you can choose to take action on the current crisis in Gaza:
Fetaured Image: @miapenel0pe

The views expressed in this article are of the individual and not representative of Epigram as an organisation

Bristol University offers support to anyone affected by international conflicts:

You can also contact the wellbeing teams by: