A fair amount has happened since the release of Florence Welch’s sophomore collection Ceremonials back in 2011, both in the singer’s personal life and in the music landscape as a whole. Back then, music-streaming was starting to take hold, whilst everyone ‘knew’ that digital downloads were the saviour for the industry. However, fast-forward almost half a decade, and things have changed – people are buying less and streaming more, so, unless you’re a Taylor Swift (we’ll leave 1989 as a rare example of this), the idea of making money out of a new studio album is entirely dependent on the quality of the collection as a whole.
Fortunately for Welch (or potentially unfortunately, based on the subject in question of her new Florence and the Machine project, How Big How Blue How Beautiful), a lot of personification has entered into the creation of the record. Being vocal about the album’s influence, How Big How Blue How Beautiful is built sheerly upon Welch’s relationship break-up (and subsequent heartache), alongside her own break-down following gruelling tour schedules, and lack of her own personal space in which to rehabilitate. With the release of inner-turmoil, however, often comes that light at the end of the tunnel, and Florence has well-and-truly delivered in that respect.
Ship To Wreck, which opens proceedings, instantly delivers the urgency that ‘The Machine’ have exposed in both Ceremonials and Florence’s debut, Lungs, though the ethereal tones of the former collections seem to have been slightly toned down for this record (HBHBHB‘s lead single What Kind of Man, alongside Queen Of Peace are probably the two biggest album tracks that would fit as ‘festival openers’). It’s also the latter that sees the return of the horns that Florence fully-managed to tone to her own advantage in previous releases.
Over the top? Potentially. But that’s not to say it’s a bad thing; Florence seems to have channeled everything that made the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Kate Bush (et al) so captivating to past generations, and run their sound through her own machine to create this gem. The aforementiond Bush is none moreso appreciated than in the gospel-banger Delilah; full of epic Florence percussion that’s perfectly ripe for her summer festival shows.
However, immediacy and urgency both seem far less prevalent with the likes of Various Storms & Saints and Caught – both probably more ‘album-filler’ than anything else. Ultimately though, both tracks do help to portray a further raw, emotional side to Welch, something which has been seemingly absent from her past projects. Additionally, there’s something fairly reassuring about these, and the rest of the record, that leads listeners toward a ‘back on your feet’ ideology, full of self-discovery and consequently the quashing of inner-demons.
Post break-up records are plentiful (as we mentioned earlier Swifty’s done a pretty-good job flogging that cannon in the past), but none moreso than How Big How Blue How Beautiful, itself drawing listeners in to the varied anguish of Florence’s life over the past few years.
Ultimately, as a collection that is entirely spirital, comforting and also confronting of the aforementioned angst, Florence’s third attempt is not only blue (you probably don’t need to go further than What Kind Of Man or Third Eye to make that judgement), moreso however, it’s still Florence-worthy big, and entirely beautiful too.
Florence’s career in the limelight may be less than a decade young, however her absence was clearly-noted; her return with such a majestic record certainly justifies how relevant and necessary she is for the British music scene.