Album Review: Florence + the Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

Florence + the Machine What Kind Of Man

Florence + the Machine subtle but powerful on dynamic new rcord
We had to wait a long time for this. Florence + the Machine took four years to launch their third album called How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. After the big and bombastic second album Ceremonials from 2011 it was interesting to hear how Florence Welch had developed in those years out of the spotlight and it turns out, she kept all the good qualities of her musical output so far, but did shake things up more than a little with a more subtle and restrained approach.

Although I absolutely loved Cerenomials, I understand the people who said it felt like one fast and bombastic ride (they probably call it How Big, How Bold, How Bombastic these days) , without any moment of serenity. I think the people who casted this criticism, will be happy to hear that How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is a much more dynamic record, which still contains the big productions and vocals, but also has a few calmer tracks that don’t need all the bombast and vocal acrobatics. This new dynamic sound was already hearable on first single ‘What Kind Of Man’, that remained relatively quiet until the second verse where the guitar kicks in and her voice goes back to whirlwind strength.

Take ‘Long & Lost’ as an example. The exciting track is carried by a minimal instrumentation of a beat, a guitar and a piano. Florence’s restrained vocals are the centre and she tries new things with high notes that she did not record before, but pulls off perfectly. On ‘Various Storms & Saints’ she is only guided by a guitar to share a tale of hope and support in one of the best lyrical moments of the record. The best slow and understated jam however, is ‘St Jude’, a song that analyzes and questions love and all big things in life in touching and melodic lyrics: “And I’m learning, so I’m leaving and even though I’m grieving, I’m trying to find the meaning. Let loss reveal it”. After a few of those calmer tracks, the full and powerful sounds of ‘Third Eye’ and ‘Ship To Wreck’ with huge hooks and banging choruses sound even better. Those things just cannot be missed on a Florence album.

The best of these two worlds (the loud and the calm, the big and the subtle) comes together on the two masterpieces of the record: the title track and ‘Queen of Peace’. The harp largely gave up its place and is replaced by horns that play melodies that are up there with the hooks of the vocal lines. ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’ was introduced at the start of this era and when you hear it in the context of the album, you know that this is what Florence is all about these days: elegant melodies, dynamic and exciting instrumentation and grand tales told in lyrics of epic proportions that still sound personal and manage to touch. ‘Queen of Peace’ is the moment where this all is transferred into radiofriendly and hit worthy territory without compromising. There are basically two choruses there, the one Florence sings and the one the horns play in the intro and in the bridges towards the end. Not to mention the verses and middle-eight and everything in between that is filled with hooks. This song is definitely up there with her best work so far.

One can debate about the fact if this is Florence’s strongest album so far (it is hard to top Lungs and Ceremonials and all its fantastic tracks like ‘Cosmic Love’, ‘Dog Days Are Over’, ‘What The Water Gave Me’ and ‘No Light, No Light’), but this is definitely her most varied and daring project so far. Well done for taking risks and delivering a more than exciting record.

Must Listen: Queen of Peace, St Jude, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, Various Saints & Storms, What Kind of Man

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