Sunday, March 20th, 2022

Florence + The Machine – King

Still on, but is it still functional?


Tobi Tella: “How much is art really worth, when the very thing you’re best at is the thing that hurts the most?” is a question that has been hanging over Florence Welch’s head for multiple album cycles now. The last song on her last album admitted it was “hard to write about being happy,” and while her demons seem to still be at bay, aiming her arrow at the trappings of society in general was a great move. It’s a track that exudes confidence while clearly born out of frustration, some of her sharpest writing and best social commentary dropped casually before she declares her power. Even Jack “collecting indie girls like infinity stones” Antonoff can’t make her anonymous, her inherent Extra levels spilling over to the production’s eventual explosion into bombast. When that signature Florence wail comes in halfway through, it truly feels like the arrival of royalty.

Ady Thapliyal: Florence has been tastefully moderate, therefore boring, for two albums now, with perhaps the exception of “Big God.” Her celestial lyrics, sung without celestial drama, come off as mawkish and uninspired. If you’re going to sing about golden crowns of sorrow, make every syllable sound weighed down by it. 

Leah Isobel: The most fun parts of “King” are when Florence’s forceful high belt is multitracked over a fried-out lower register; which is mother and bride, and which is king? The fussy production makes those conflicting signals feel conventional, but the outro’s uneasy dissipation feels honest. Very gender, very that.

Michael Hong: How it opens then retreats back into her grand self-mythology, scaling its dynamics so gradually and gracefully as it builds its walls — that’s what makes Florence a woman with a story to tell rather than one looking to exorcise her demons. As it settles, Florence only teases the drop of her defences, clinging to a reference to “Never Let Me Go” with a knowing smile and a dramatic flourish as she draws forward.

Dorian Sinclair: There’s a lot of jokes one can make about yet another high-profile female pop artist choosing Jack Antonoff to work with, but I actually think the collaboration makes a lot of sense here — Florence + the Machine’s last album High as Hope showed a real interest in exploring the kind of stripped-back production Antonoff tends to do quite well; the first half of “King”, with its slow instrumental fuse and Welch’s bluntly poetic lyrics, fits right in with tracks like “Sky Full of Song.” The patience of the build pays off with that explosion halfway through, Welch demonstrating yet again that no one can do “keening grandeur” quite like her. It’s a good track on the whole, even if the repeated refrain feels a bit like a watered-down version of Halsey’s “I am not a woman, I’m a god.”

Thomas Inskeep: Florence Welch kind of wants to be Kate Bush as a pop star, but she’s a lot more Adele than she is Bush. She’s going for heavy drama on “King,” but it comes off more silly and over-the-top than dramatic. (And the video, oh no.)

Vikram Joseph: “King” is a song about ambition that shows that Florence Welch is learning how to channel it effectively. Exercising an uncommon amount of patience and self-control — after nearly three minutes of build, she allows herself the briefest of climaxes before slumping into a harp-studded coda — it’s a simmering, softly seething single which nonetheless attains the acute, febrile melodrama of early Arcade Fire. I confess to only ever intermittently being lit up by her songs, but there’s a refined songcraft here that belies her biting critique of her own art (“you need your rotten heart, your dazzling pain like diamond rings/you need to go to war to find material to sing”).

Alfred Soto: When she bellowed powerfully enough to shred the paint from a battleship, Florence Welch rarely bored. But she has traded the bombast for an ill-becoming intimacy. She tries to have both on “King” — if any singer can inhabit the lyrical delusions of grandeur, it’s Welch — and cancels herself out. There are clothes, sure, but no emperor.

Reader average: [8] (6 votes)

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