Whilst the cover photo might suggest everything is normal in Florence world (Flo is posing in a mock 'The Collected Works Of Virginia Woolf' pose; she's all closed eyed, aristocratic jawline and a font which suggests some shammy leather gloves from 'Past Times'), there's a lot more going on album number two than the photo suggests.
Huddled in the top floor of a chi chi East London pub for the album playback we are surrounded by Florence cup cakes, Florence napkins and Florence men (James Ford, Paul Epworth and her dad) but not the lady herself. A record company bod introduces the playback- 7 tracks recorded during "5 weeks in Abbey Road" and "2 months in Paul Epworth's studio". Here's our initial thoughts...
'Only If For A Night'
Clearly the influence of Drake (who she has been collaborating with) has rubbed off here. The rapper's down-home style plays a part as a harp interplays with a hip hop beat. It's the first of a few tracks which feel expensive, and schooled in the US world of production. The flow (sorry Flo) reminds us of The Big Pink's 'Dominos'. While the verses find her intoning rather dreamily about "satellites" and "holy men", the chorus finds her singing "And the only solution was to stand and fight". As it finishes the assembled crowd around us shout "tuuuuuune". We couldn't agree more (although that could have just been her dad and his mates).
'Shake It Out'
"All the goons come out to play...I like to keep some things to myself," sings Florence in a rare confessional frame of mind. The beat is quite Ryan Tedder ('Bleeding Love', 'Halo') and with a chorus of "Shake it up! Shake it up!" it's no surprise this is going to be the first single proper from the album.
'What The Water Gave Me'
We've written about this one before. We likened it to "80s goth" and it is refreshing to hear the dark change of pace within the context of the album. The Nico-like musings throw the pop bombast into relief.
'Never Let Me Go'
We're back to familar themes of the sea in this piano-led slowie. Florence's backing vocalists intone "never let me go" in the chorus, before the slow build (the verses recall Enya) reveals a full pelting power ballad, with Flo intoning in her classic belter style. Yes, the Bodyform advert briefly crosses our minds.
A plinky plonky clown rhythm opens this minor chord, Beatles-y nursery rhyme of a tune. The chorus features an atmospheric "I think it'll rain down again" and the whole thing sounds like it could be the soundtrack to a spooky hallucinogenic sequence in a children's film or something from Tears For Fears' 'Sowing The Seeds Of Love' album.
'Lover To Lover'
Florence goes into for on gospel mode on this track, channeling her inner Mahalia Jackson. It's a pose she pulls off rather well. The verses find some skeletal (rather spooky sounding) piano chords playing up against a lightly tapped tambourine as Flo admits she's not going to find love amongst her lovers. She waits until the chorus to sing about "salvation" and "space amongst the clouds" as things explode into appropriately booming territory by the time we get into the latter half.
'No Light, No Light'
The most traditionally Florence-like track thus far. The harp, booming drums, and chanty chorus are all present and correct. "You want a revelation, so try a revolution," she sings as the lyrics tell of a love gone awry. In fact, the whole thing feels like 'Rabbit Heart' done in a different key. Bjork comes to mind too, before a nifty little dubstep breakdown in the middle breaks the whole thing apart before it drifts back together again.
Snakes, holy water, mythic smoke; we're definitely in 'Mystic Meg' territory here. A clanking piano, a string section which sounds like the aural equivalent of dry ice spreading slowly across the stage and Florence sounds suitably Zola Jesus-like keep the 'spooky factor' pretty high. Twilight soundtrack, anyone?
Tribal drums, chants which all call to mind the more feral side of Niki & The Dove and lyrics which suggest the lady's been touring way too much ("Echoes of a city that's long overgrown/Your heart is the only place that I call home"), this a welcome change of pace after 'Seven Devils'.
"Say! My! Name!" Florence demands, as she unleashes the track to a galloping beat, although sadly it's not the Destiny's Child song. It is, rather, full throttle Florence, and there's a harp breakdown too.
'All This And Heaven Too'
A sweet, 60's girlgroup vibe and sees Florence doing her most girlish vocal on the whole album doesn't really hide the fact this feels rather slight compared to the rest of the album.
'Leave My Body'
This is the most bluesy of the bunch. There's also a gospel-y intonation when she sings "I don't want your future". The bridge is interesting and boasts a choir of Florences who sound like the kids choir in 'Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)'. The lyrics are spooky too: "Calling me / Calling me down / History keeps pulling me / Pulling me down". Oo-er.
It all sounds very well constructed, epic and expertly produced. Some bits sound like a meshing of a modern R'n'B record with her debut, some of it very much sounds like 'Lungs' 2, with a sly glance to a US audience.