In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
Florence + the Machine songstress Florence Welch recently capped off a breakout year with performances at the Grammys and Oscars. Considering her affinity for covers, it’s appropriate that she took on Aretha Franklin’s “Think” at the Grammys and handled Dido’s part with Best Song nominee A.R. Rahman at the Oscars. Florence + the Machine’s debut, Lungs, arrived less than two years ago, but Welch has already performed more covers than some musicians do in decades. Here are a few highlights, from Florence solo and with the help of her band the Machine.
Welch’s effervescent cover of The Source’s “You’ve Got the Love” is her most famous; she released it as the fifth single from Lungs. Florence has named the original as “one of her favorite songs ever” and fans feel the same way about her anthemic, gospel-tinged version – it gets a massive crowd response in its regular appearances during her gigs.
Florence + the Machine – You’ve Got the Love (The Source ft. Candi Staton cover)
Welch’s covers span a wide array of genres. Her take on the Mystery Jets‘ “Flakes” is the best example of a “typical” Florence cover; most feature fairly straightforward arrangements and backing instrumentals that showcase the flexible expressiveness of her voice. With a slow expansion from the soft first verse to a grandiose final chorus, she transforms “Flakes,” an average downtempo track, into a heartwrenching breakup ballad.
Welch has a propensity for indie covers, but she’s no stranger to pop either. Her best mainstream cover is a performance of Beyoncé‘s “Halo” from an appearance on BBC’s Live Lounge. Most artists would shy away from taking on a diva, but Welch nails the vocals when she stretches to raw, powerful heights for the final chorus, and flips Beyoncé’s polished production for the harp and string embellishments of Lungs.
Though Welch’s vocals can be show-stealers, she has also shared the stage with lovely duet covers. The first is The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” from a session with Billy Bragg. No one ever covers the song with the perfect mix of regret and spite that Shane McGowan and Kirsty MacColl brought to the original, but this version is better than most. Florence also teamed up with English singer/songwriter Kid Harpoon for Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m Goin’ Down,” a track that was recently covered by Irish band The Dirty 9s. The best thing about Welch’s duets is that they showcase her ear for careful arrangements and vocal subtlety. She could easily overpower her partners, but she instead works with them gracefully.
Florence + the Machine’s performance of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” at Glastonbury 2010 might be the pinnacle of Welch’s cover career. During the show, she called “The Chain” her favorite song of all time. Fortuitously, it’s the ideal cover for her because she gets a chance to show off her talents in homage to another great female vocalist, Stevie Nicks. Her one-time-only performance at Glasto didn’t change the structure dramatically, but that’s because the original track is a good fit for her style. It has the scale and drama, the pulsing beat and pure emotion, of her own songs.
Welch has done too many covers to discuss here, but a few more are worth mentioning to illustrate the breadth of her repertoire. She’s played an impromptu version of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” with cover-loving producer Mark Ronson, taken on fellow frontwoman Karen O with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps,” performed The Beatles at Abbey Road (“Oh! Darling”), and even recorded a holiday cover (Wham!’s “Last Christmas”). No matter what she covers, Welch’s voice is consistently powerful and emotive. Listen to her best below.