It is often commented that whether a performer can sing live is a solid indication as to if they are genuinely a respectable artist. So when Florence took her Machine to MTV Unplugged and laid her vocals bare to demonstrate their true unproduced ability, she was taking a risk. Unfortunately it didn't entirely pay off.
She opens her set with Only If For A Night which can only be described as a literally shaky start. Ms Welch is known for her quavering, ethereal vocals and these are here in all their glory. However, an inability to control her vocals fully at the higher ranges transform this oscillating quality from enchanting into somewhat jarring. This continues in the subsequent tracks, with Drumming Song and Cosmic Love also falling foul to these vocal discrepancies at points. Longer-held harmonies sound strained and higher-pitch notes are often unsuccessfully hit or deliberately lowered to avoid attempting in the first place.
A cover of Try A Little Tenderness you'd think would have mountains of potential; after all, Florence's cover of You've Got The Love proved to be one of her biggest hits yet. However, the exaggeratedly slow and stripped back style that it's adapted into results in a languid track that causes the listener to become bored incredibly quickly. The acoustic touch she gives here follows onto No Light No Light which admittedly fares with better results. The beating drum that usually provides the foundation for this track is removed entirely and instead Florence is left singing acapella with nothing but a piano and harp for accompaniment and it does make for a captivating listen.
There's also a rather intriguing duet with Josh Homme covering Johnny Cash's Jackson which sees her foray into the unfamiliar genre of country. Both the song choice and the collaboration seem a slightly odd decision but it serves to show us that Florence's vocals aren't solely limited to that of her instantly recognisable style. The pair's voices complement each other nicely and the quavering expression of her vocals suits the more wailing tendency of country music.
Florence's albums have garnered an awful lot of critical acclaim, so the pressure for her recreate in front of a live audience as impressive a performance as demonstrated on her two studio releases was always going to be high. However, without the production and technology that can polish up an execution in the studio, the weaknesses in her vocals are revealed. The other main problem she faces is that the songs she chose to perform for this session are on the whole so well known and loved that any blips, particularly against the faultless instrumentals, become acutely apparent. The MTV Unplugged album will make a great addition to any die-hard fan's collection or for someone curious as to what a live performance by Florence + the Machine sounds like. However, if you're content with the songs the way you know them on the album then this release is nothing but rather disappointing and unnecessary.