Songs from Final Fantasy XV
Songs from Final Fantasy XV
August 12, 2016
Buy from iTunes
The involvement of Florence and the Machine in the next numbered installment of the blockbuster video game series, Final Fantasy XV (FFXV), was first revealed when Florence Welch’s soaring voice was featured in a trailer of the game released back in March during the event Uncovered: Final Fantasy XV, covering the Ben E. King’s anthem, “Stand By Me”. As Welch is known for her flair for melodrama and baroque soundscape, which dovetail perfectly with the soul-stirring plot and grandiose world that Final Fantasy series is known for, it seems like a fitting move to induct Welch into the coveted list of Final Fantasy songstresses.
While this is not the first time Final Fantasy series has collaborated with a high-profile western singer, as Final Fantasy XIII had licensed Leona Lewis’ “My Hands” for the western release of the game, Welch’s contribution to FFXV marks the first true musical collaboration between the series with a mainstream artist given that Welch was personally involved in the composition and arrangement of all three songs released in the digital EP — Songs from Final Fantasy XV. In addition to her band members, Welch also enlisted the help from notable producers Emile Haynie (Lana Del Rey, Bruno Mars) and Jeff Bhasker (Leona Lewis, Taylor Swift) to create the orchestral trio for this EP.
Songs from Final Fantasy XV marks the first major release from Florence and the Machine since the success of the band’s third studio album, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (HBHBHB), which is their first to debut atop of the Billboard 200 Chart and netted them five Grammy nominations. But instead of perpetuating the gritty and stripped down sounds Welch embraced in HBHBHB, Welch chooses to revisit the lavishly ornamented and relentlessly romantic soundscape that she manifested in the band’s second album Ceremonials in Songs from Final Fantasy XV, which admittedly is more aligned with the world of Final Fantasy, as epitomized by the first track “Too Much Is Never Enough”.
“Too Much Is Never Enough” is one of the two original tracks Welch recorded for the game in addition to the “Stand By Me” cover. The song’s structure can be broken down into A-B-C-A-B-C-D-C-E, of which section C is the refrain and section D is the bridge. Crooning “And the crown it weighs heavy/’Till it’s banging on my eyelids”, which alludes to the massive heft destiny made inextricable with the royal identity of Noctis —the crowned protagonist of FFXV— Welch begins the song buoying her voice gently with harp and piano.
Constant beats of percussion start to percolate Section B like echoes of distant footsteps as Welch starts to release the trammels on her voice and let it rise to the crest, belting the lines “Oh, grant that I can stay the night/Or one more day inside this life” with piercing intensity. A powerfully sustained note that concludes Section B paves the way to Section C, the triumphant refrain which resolves the tension built up in the previous section as Welch chants the titular text “Too much, too much, too much, too much, too much/Never enough” repeatedly.
In the repeat of section B, Welch ingeniously adds another layer of counterpoint, which will in time get its own spotlight as the main melodic line for section E, the outro. After the second chorus, singing “And who cares about the thing I did that night?/So what? Maybe Luna had it right” (Notice that Luna in the lyrics refer to Lunafreya, the heroine of FFXV, who also starred in the CGI film Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV), Welch ushers in the bridge (Section D) like innumerable golden rays impaling through the tenebrous clouds after a turbulent storm, compounding a satisfyingly cathartic auditory experience as her voice converges with the cascading strings and intertwines with a chorus choired by Welch as well.
Section C returns immediately after for one last time before Section E, the outro is laid out in which Welch concludes the epic journey with the melodic line used earlier as counterpoint to Section B, intoning “One more year, a hundred flags flying in the field/One more day, felt it let go of me”. While FFXV is not yet released at the time of writing, the song seems to encapsulate the crux of Noctis’ story masterfully, ensconced in the singular style of Welch, an impressive feat worthy of the musical legacy of the Final Fantasy series.
“Stand By Me” —the beloved classic sung by Ben E. King— had been covered numerous times in various styles and languages. In Welch’s iteration of the song for FFXV, despite the resolutely majestic orchestral instrumentation, Welch has otherwise adheres to the original reverently, making only minor twists to the melody of the refrain when it is repeated after the instrumental interlude. The track opens lightly with arpeggio figures delicately played on harp, kept steady by a constant percussive pulse treading underneath. The signature bassline of the original song does not appear until the second verse, plucked out on double bass. Following the interlude led by the strings as well as a chorus layered in Welch’s vocals, the brass section takes over the bassline as Welch starts to embellish her own flourishes into the refrain, gearing up the track for a grand finale.
In Welch’s own words, “’Stand By Me’ is one of the greatest songs probably of all time and you can’t really improve on it, you just have to make it your own. For me it was just about bringing the song into the world of Florence and the Machine and the world of Final Fantasy”. While this rendition of “Stand By Me” is not particularly innovative nor markedly distinct from the original, Welch did manage to make the song hers through imbuing it with her propensity for grandeur sonic melange, making it apposite for the cinematic ambience of Final Fantasy.
Taking a different approach with the final track of the trio, Welch chooses to take a backseat in “I Will Be”, chiefly an instrumental track, serving as a background singer instead of a lead vocalist. Layering, which gets heavier and more involved as the song progressed, is the principal technique utilized in “I Will Be” that steers the track forward. Hazy keys and unintelligible airy whispering open the track, diffusing it with a foggy nostalgic vibe as a chorus (vocalized by Welch, naturally) echoes longingly in the distance before coming into prominence, as if the fog has dispersed. These layers cut in and drop out as the track proceeds, intermingling with each other. The turning point of the track is marked by a dramatic glissando; Welch starts to chant the titular “I will be” as well as “Silence will not cover me” —the only two lines in the song— as the sonic layering becomes denser and the marching beats become more palpable, a gradual but unequivocal crescendo towards a stately finis.
“In some ways the landscape of Final Fantasy and my own internal landscape seemed to fit quite well. It’s mythical and beautiful and epic”, Songs from Final Fantasy XV perfectly summed up by the words of Florence Welch herself. The EP is an unmistakable love letter immaculately crafted by Welch to the awe-inspiring universe of Final Fantasy. While the orchestral trio retain Welch’s signature emotional depth of a monumental scale, they were composed in service to the expansive lore of the game series it is written for and not Welch’s projection of herself through the lens of Final Fantasy. Despite containing only three songs —ostensibly the only shortcoming of this EP— Songs from Final Fantasy XV is a worthy purchase for all fans of Final Fantasy as well as of Florence and the Machine.
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Posted on August 21, 2016 by KT Wong. Last modified on August 23, 2016.