A number of reviewers have started out by mentioning their age and gender. Let me continue that trend: I'm male and getting on for 58. In my time, I've been a Beatles/Rolling Stones, Hendrix, King Crimson, Siouxsie and the Banshees and All About Eve fan - to name just a few bands - and then some time around the millennium I abandoned the "boring" mainstream (sorry, Michael Stipe and 1990s R.E.M.) and started listening mostly to dark continental metal. That too has evolved, but the point I want to make very strongly is that Florence has reconnected me with a small fragment of the mainstream. A small but very significant fragment.
It's significant for a number of reasons. Yes, there's a gothic thread running through the album. Let's call it "gothic" rather than "goth" - I think that's a more accurate view. For a bright and "big" album (apparently, and in reply to another reviewer, Florence is on record as saying that she wants to make her music "big"), many of the lyrics are, of course, quite dark. In fact, "Girl With One Eye" is dreadfully dark - despite which the album has been accepted into the "mainstream" world without question. I can think of a great many doom metal and death metal albums, but none of them are ever likely to make the same journey!
I see this album as a great, crazy achievement in itself, and as a wake-up call to some other artists. OK, so it isn't a competition - it's never been that - but there are plenty of successful artists out there who seem content with "less". One thing I've discovered from my journeys around continental metal is that "more" is an important part of the emotional hook: I think of it in terms of colour and texture. And this album is brimming over with colour and texture.
To those who are disappointed that this Florence isn't quite the same as the live Florence, I'd say that the drama of the live gigs surely couldn't really work in the longer term - not if you're planning to put the CD on repeat. The studio version of "Bird Song" on the bonus CD has a rather different character compared to the YouTube videos, but it works perfectly well for me.
Some reviewers have made comparisons with other singers, past and present. On "My Boy Builds Coffins", I hear something of the style of the late and much-missed John Martyn. Personally, I don't hear much Kate Bush in Florence's approach (stay away from those squeaky high notes please, Florence!), but she herself mentions Grace Slick as one of her influences and, well, perhaps something of that shows through. The key to Grace's way of singing, apparently, was that she was trying to emulate the sound of the electric guitar. That's a kind of madness in itself - and madness of a very special kind is something that Florence promises to deliver much more of in the future.
Unless, that is, she gives up all this wacky stuff and turns into one of the best white soul singers ever ...