Florence + the Machine, MTV Unplugged
Whenever I hear the title MTV Unplugged, my first thought is always of the epic performance that Nirvana gave, which would go down as one of their greatest albums. While I may have at one point in time owned Eric Clapton Unplugged on cassette, I also had bootleg cassettes I taped off the radio of Unplugged performances from the likes of Stone Temple Pilots, Live, and Hole. I also remember such performances from bands like Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam.
Then I just assumed that as MTV gradually stopped being about the music (I say the “m” stands for “money,” now, but that’s a whole other story not worth getting into here), the concept of Unplugged became a thing of the past.
Then I found Florence + the Machine’s Unplugged on CD. First off, when did they bring this concept back? I could name about twenty actual bands that I would love to see “unplugged” (Foo Fighters and Modest Mouse top the list) that would certainly draw more ratings for the network than the latest Real World/Road Rules Challenge. (The “challenge” is in being able to sit through the entire show.) If MTV is in fact bringing this back, they need to email or call me. I have ideas that could be so beautiful and chaotic Unplugged (Gogol Bordello, anyone?).
Nevertheless, I still find myself constantly comparing this Florence live album to that of Nirvana’s, simply because Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York pretty much sets the bar for all Unplugged performances.
The first thing that I noticed about this album was that there was only clapping at appropriate times — like a Japanese wrestling match — and there wasn’t a lot of interaction with Florence herself and the live crowd. Okay, well, let me rephrase that. There wasn’t a lot of interaction with the crowd on the album. What happened in person, I have no idea, but the strange fading in and out between tracks leads me to believe that portions of this recording not effecting the outcome have been edited.
One of the things I remember still and loved most about Nirvana going on Unplugged was when a song would start, and after the first few notes the crowd would figure it out, so we’d hear that round of recognition applause. The recognition applause is absent from this Florence + the Machine release, as if people in attendance were told to sit on their hands while the musicians were performing or face consequences worse than what the network did to Carson Daly.
So, this particular Unplugged album features primarily the voice of Florence Welch. There’s an acoustic guitar, piano, various classical strings, and even backup vocals that come into play, but trust me when I say that this entire concept revolves around the operatic voice of Florence Welch.
The songs are a mix of the first two Florence + the Machine studio albums, Lungs and Ceremonials, so it is interesting to see which ones made the cut and which ones did not. It has a certain power to it, in that if you enjoy the studio recordings, you will obviously like this as well.
My only gripe with it — and it’s a pretty big deal, to me — is that this seems closer to a studio session with a live audience versus an actual live performance. Where’s the spontaneity? Where is the randomness of Kurt Cobain guaranteeing to screw songs up? I feel like not only have portions been edited out of this, but perhaps even songs have been re-recorded for a better “take.”
Because of that, I like to think of this as an acoustic Florence album more than an actual Unplugged album, because that title once held greatness with it that this album lacks, primarily because of the production involved in it. I’ve never actually met Florence Welch, seen her give interviews, or anything, but I bet she’d interact with her fans more during performances if MTV let her. The way this sounds, though, I bet if Pearl Jam was on Unplugged now, they’d have cut the part where Eddie Vedder scribbles on his arm with a sharpie during “Porch.”