Florence is at her best with a sharp pantsuit and red wavy hair as tussled and tossed as her masterful yell/yodel that has kept me enthralled since Lungs. During my peak high school athleticism days, I went to state finals in Fresno, CA for track and had no shame about doing my warmups to "Kiss With a Fist" and "Between Two Lungs". Not the usual pre-100meterdash pump up soundtrack, but there was an undeniable power in her voice that really got me amped. This has not changed.
"Only If For A Night" from Ceremonials quite literally took my breath away the first time I heard it and it's no wonder I still get goosebumps when I hear that gently rolling harp supported by the most spectral sounding chorus of all time. It was a continuation of the same dark and mysterious themes that made "Rabbit Heart" and "Cosmic Love" so fantastic to me. Florence had the charming drums and cheerful spookiness of Professor Trelawney, with all the bewitching red haired danger of Melisandre.
Her latest album How Big How Blue How Beautiful was surprisingly lacking in references to water, demons, and the supernatural. Also lacking in harps. Also lacking in the creepy netherworld vibes that made the other albums SO unique and everything. The newer songs are raw; not with passionate abandon of a sacrificial ritual like the last two albums, but with all the emotions that come from a hurtful breakup.
Since you've continued reading this post, I'm going to take a leap of faith and guess that you're probably somewhat familiar with Florence and the Machine. I'm going to extrapolate further and guess that maybe you were just as surprised as I was when you realized that for all intents and purposes...How Big How Blue How Beautiful is a break up album. A pretty standard one too for that matter. Songs about healing after the whole mess while realizing the power and strength of loving yourself over someone else. Songs about the good times during the relationship. Lots of songs about how cloudy and destructive the relationship was. What sets HBHBHB apart from other records filled with loss and discovery however, is the fact that this one is still undeniably a product of Florence.
Common threads with almost all the songs:
Irritation and hurt and a lost kind of anger over Mr.ExBoyfriendofFlorenceWelsh
Lots of handclaps and tambourines
I think my main qualm is that a lot of the songs have very very repetitive choruses - not such an uncommon thing really - and it's hard to take someone repetitively belting full force in your headphones no matter how beautiful it sounds. It's a plus side when you’re singing with your friends and doing your best imitation of Florence Welsh Dramatic Wail (to wrrrrreeeeeeeckkkkkkk) but when casually listening it kind of turns into “Okay. Did you build this ship to wreck? Did you Florence?” so there is that.
Really, "How Big How Blue How Beautiful" is the one song out of this whole album that you NEED to listen to. It’s the best summary of her new sound, but it still takes its cue from her past catalog. Lyrically, it’s similar to the other content present in the rest of the album, but the outro was something else entirely. The outro. The outro the outro the outro. The lushest thing I’ve heard all summer. I couldn’t help but compare the rest of the album to it, which was a mistake and might have hindered my ability to listen objectively.
(the powers that be should have made the title song the outro to the whole album, it's incredible and then maybe I would have been more forgiving to the more "meh" tracks that came in-between)
"Queen of Peace" is a summary of all the downsides of the album. Really loud and kind of forgettable, with a handful of beautiful lines that made me go “oooo I heard that metaphor yessss Flo yesss”. Did I mention it was kind of forgettable? Listened to it as I wrote this review and I've already forgotten the melody, but maybe that's just me.
"Delliah" and other songs have a carefree frolicking feel to them paired with a new, wiser, more self-medicated, new set of wisdom that only comes with lived experiences that lowkey kind of leave you reeling, but also give you the strength the get back up and write a whole album about them. The handclaps are heavy. Lots of tracks persist with this heavy arena rock meets Fleetwood Mac vibe.
"Love & Lost" gives a quiet lull in the forcefulness of the rest of the album, and it's appreciated. There’s a beauty in her voice when she’s vulnerable and whispering and hitting those high notes with a delicate breeziness.
This album was both more dramatic than her last albums, and less dramatic. Less songs about coffin building and bloody hearts and more songs about actual relationships and the tumultuous set of emotions that comes with loving someone who feels things as strongly as Florence does. It's a full roller coaster of emotions, but the only songs that I can see myself listening to on a regular basis are How Big How Blue How Beautiful (please listen to this one it's my favorite), Third Eye, and What Kind of Man. Florence's voice is just as great as ever, but I think I'll be shelving the majority of this work until I have the most devastatingly heart-wrenching break up of all time and can scream along with a glass of cheap peach flavored moscato and a silk slip nightdress.