Album Review: Florence + the Machine – High As Hope

florence machine high as hope

Florence + the Machine reflects on more subdued fourth album
Nine long years into her career (yeah, her debut Lungs was released back in 2009), Florence Welch from Florence + the Machine realizes it is time to take a step back and reflect. The British sensation started out as an alt singer-songwriter, but within years grew out to be an arena selling, festival headlining pop star. On her fourth album High As Hope she strips things down more than ever and tells us her story in more honest, straightfoward lyrics than ever before.

Florence first rose to fame with a dynamic mix of rock, soul and pop, characterized by her signature powerhouse vocals. Second album Ceremonials showed off her most styled, bombastic fantastic moments with big wall of sound productions, while third record How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful carefully experimented with some more acoustic sounds, while mainly being dominated by full orchestral instrumentations. On High As Hope Florence lets go even more and lays her soul bare on more stripped back instrumentations and rawer productions; this is not to say that High As Hope is a quiet acoustic album. Hello!? It’s Florence we are talking about after all!

Florence + the Machine launched the track ‘Sky Full of Song’ as a first taste back in April and both sonically and lyrically it represents the album well. Florence explores what it means for her life to be touring all the time over a calm but beautifully layered instrumentation with a vivacious melody in the chorus. First official single ‘Hunger’ discusses an eating disorder in the opening lines (“At seventeen I started to starve myself”), but in the almost euphoric sounding chorus draws a comparison to the youth of today whom she describes as engaged. One of the most honest and devastating moments comes on ‘Grace’, a bare song written as an apology to her sister. “I don’t know who I was back then and I hope and hope I would never treat anyone like that again”, she sings after recalling how she ruined her sister’s 18th birthday party.

On the beautifully flowing ‘South London Forever’ she looks back at the drugs and drinks fueled days at Art College. The build up of the melodies in the chorus is heavenly! Jamie xx assisted track ‘Big God’ takes things to a darker place with an ominous piano loop, deep synths and an exorcism like vocal performance. The way the track is produced is new territory for her, but shows off how throughout her career, she has experimented on every single album while maintaining a signature sound. Sonically, the Patti Smith ode ‘Patricia’ comes closest to the sound of its predecessor. The glorious grande finale brings back the stunning orchestrations of How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, but in a different, less hook focused context.

High As Hope is Florence’s most compact body of work yet (only 10 tracks), yet has has a flawless build up from start to finish. Opening number ‘June’ is a love song allegedly inspired by Pride month that mentions the day after the devastating massacre in the Pulse night club in Orlando, saying how ‘skies turned dark’, but ‘love became an act of defiance’. Heartbreaking closing tracks ‘No Choir’ and especially ‘The End Of Love’ seem to be a full circle moment. While Florence earlier in career thrived with grande gestures in poetry and metaphors, her lyrics are, although still poetic today, more straightforward, for example while acknowledging her grandmother’s suicide when Florence was just 9 years old: “And in a moment of joy and fury I threw myself from the balcony like my grandmother so many years before me.”

Florence + the Machine takes time to step back, reflect, heal and move on with the creation of High As Hope. There is an understated quality about this record that shows Florence go back to basics, her basics. We still get vocal firework when needed and the productions build up like there is no tomorrow if the melodic progression asks for it, but everything here serves a purpose to get Florence’s personal story across. And that story is one we want to keep hearing over and over again until the next chapter comes along!

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