Florence + The Machine - MTV Unplugged
The promotional material tells me that Kanye West was in attendance for Florence + The Machine’s take on the MTV Unplugged series which, whilst an irrelevant fact, makes me grateful that he didn’t deem it necessary to pull a “Taylor Swift” on us. One can only imagine the worry provoked in Florence’s security team when she sprung a last minute Kanye guest list request upon them.
Celebrity attendance aside, this sees Florence + The Machine performing acoustic, stripped back versions of songs from both Lungs and Ceremonials. Fear not though, with a string section and ten piece NYC gospel choir behind her, the usual Florence theatrics are not lost, but rather presented in a new, subtle light. She flourishes in placing a new-fangled slant on her vocal prowess, avoiding simply replicating her album sound.
The lightly plucked harp introduction of opening track ‘Only If for a Night’ starts delicately in typical Florence style, only to be halted by the noisy applause of the adulating audience - something you have to make allowances for with a live record. The formula does get repetitive though: ‘Never Let Me Go’ takes over three minutes in its transition from a whimsical piano-led trickle, blossoming into an anthemic sing-along power ballad. ‘No Light No Light’ follows in its footsteps, only reaching a soaring chorus after the same amount of time. However, the duplication in technique is more than made up for here by a virtually eternally held note, void of even a hint of a tremble. It is this track which features the most energetic moment of the set, touching on the heights of the usual full scale Florence odyssey.
Halfway through the set Florence is joined by another fiery redhead in the form of Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme. Their track of choice is ‘Jackson’, the pacey Johnny Cash classic. Her powerful vocals appear to overshadow Homme initially, but by the chorus his swaggering, bluesy contribution escalates, making for an unexpectedly cohesive collaboration. Compared to the original they have lowered the mood, without losing the country-tinged charm.
MTV Unplugged unfortunately falls victim to the usual outcome of a live album, in that it is mostly one for the fans. It is glorious, on the verge of being regal, when the backing music becomes submissive to the power behind Flo’s lungs. Anyone who caught her on her recent Ceremonials tour will be able to envisage the magic and re-experience the goose bumps - for others this album may not make as much sense. If you are a fan it is ultimately worth a listen, but be it in the knowledge that Unplugged is the tip-toeing, shy younger sibling of the torrent that is Ceremonials.