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Florence and the Machine

by Shaun Curran

If 2009 was billed as the year of the girls, then Florence Welch was undoubtedly the eccentric, free-spirit-made-good.

Whereas La Roux, Little Boots and many of the other female singers Florence is often grouped with are happy to play pure pop, the leader of Florence and the Machine (nobody knows, or seemingly cares, about the Machine) has followed her own quirky, idiosyncratic path that, though divisive, has been embraced by the mainstream.

Since winning the prestigious Critics Choice Brit Award last February, Florence has become ubiquitous in both the U.K. music and tabloid press, helped considerably by a unique dress sense (there’s no-one else pulling off the second hand, ostentatious Victorian-chic look), a succession of famous friends and a cover of the Candi Staton classic “You’ve Got the Love,” which has been as unavoidable as Florence herself.

Yet as some people treated her celebrity mates, inimitable style and transparently privileged background with suspicion, her debut album “Lungs” has silenced many doubters. Full of Gothic mystique and dark imagery, the record uses harps, xylophones, heavy percussion and Gregorian chants to create an expansive, baroque, off-kilter pop labyrinth that sounds simultaneously out of time yet indeterminately modern.

The British certainly agree: despite the detractors, only the death of Michael Jackson and the mass purchase of his records prevented “Lungs” from charting at No. 1 last June, yet over six months later that’s exactly where she finds herself as the Florence juggernaught shows no signs of ceasing.

With an imposing personality and even more imposing voice, Florence’s reputation as a fearsome performer is growing in line with her ever-increasing fan base.

The U.K. and Europe have already fallen under her spell — from Feb. 10, expect Tokyo and Japan to follow suit.

Florence and the Machine play Liquid Room in Tokyo at 7 p.m. on Feb. 10 (tickets cost ¥5,500 in advance, 03-3444-6751) For more information, visit florenceandthemachine.net