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Artist to Watch 2009: Florence and the Machine

U.K. singer mixes girl-power lyrics, soulful vocals

August 7, 2009 11:35 AM ET

Florence Welch is a hard-partying, foul-mouthed, slightly-OCD Brit who can't sit still for more than a few minutes. But any similarities to Amy Winehouse end there. Under the alias Florence and the Machine, 22-year-old Welch crafts arty piano-powered tunes that touch on everything from spiky garage rock to string-soaked balladry to synthesized '80s-style pop. "When I was writing these songs, I used to refer to myself as Florence 'Robot,' " she says, "because I really like what a machine thinks organic instruments really sound like."

Welch was discovered while hanging out wasted in a London club (where else?) last year, when she had the urge to spontaneously sing Etta James' "Something's Got a Hold of Me." BBC radio host and Pete Doherty pal Mairead Nash was in the room, was impressed, and became her manager. Soon after, Welch was signed to Universal and started racking up accolades.

Quirky like Kate Bush and endowed with pipes like Annie Lennox, Welch explores themes of female empowerment all over her album, including the stunning anthem "Hurricane Drunk," where she exacts physical revenge on her unfaithful boyfriend after downing one too many pints. First single "Kiss With a Fist" is a fiery, Pretenders-esque punk song where Welch documents going apeshit on a cheating lover. "You smashed a plate over my head and I set fire to our bed," she sings in her raging, smokey howl. But happily the song isn't literal: "It's a metaphor for the kind of love that is so intense, it tears both of you apart."

Read Kevin O'Donnell's full story in the new issue,
on stands now.

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