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

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Originally posted on Music Insight:

Redheaded vixen Florence Welch has made a living writing songs about love, death, misery and even delving into Christian ideology when the occasion calls for it. With a three-and-a-half-year hiatus now behind them, Florence + the Machine have released their third album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful and it’s nothing less than you’d expect from the critically acclaimed group.

Listening to the LP, it’s immediately evident the English indie rock band are branching away from 2011’s Ceremonials and its dark, robust motif. With new producer Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Coldplay) at the helm, this is their first attempt at a rock ‘n’ roll-inspired record and precisely what they needed moving forward. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful deals with a far more intimate reality – how to live and love in this world, rather than escape it.

The first step on this big, blue, beautiful journey is Ship To Wreck. Jovial with its boisterous drums and guitar-driven arrangement, juxtaposed with ominous lyrics that speak of sleeping pills and alcohol abuse. Having admitted the song refers to her own destructive nature, Welch sings, “Did I drink too much? Am I losing touch?” It was almost not included on the album as Dravs banned further ‘nautical’ concepts. Good thing she rebelled against the notion as it’s one of the best, and most popular, tunes on the album.

What Kind of Man begins with a haunting introduction reminiscent of Ceremonials, and yet is essentially a classic rock firepower when it kicks in with its searing guitar riffs and horn blasts. Whoever pissed Welch off better watch their backs if her fierce performance is anything to go by. In contrast, title track How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is a melodramatic production with its proclaiming trumpets and catchy drumbeats. Befitting for a song that seems to be one huge metaphor for the Los Angeles sky – home to Hollywood and all its glitz and glamour.

Known for her rich storytelling, Welch delivers in spades on energetic anthem Queen Of Peace. Her deep, dark lyrics are chaperoned by strings and brass giving it an old world quality that is broken occasionally with a well strummed guitar. This track will undoubtedly be a crowd favourite at live shows.

Similarly low-key tracks Various Storms & Saints and Long and Lost both quietly drift amongst the emphatic songs that surround them. Their ballad-like melodies cite a tale of love and loss, although it’s Welch’s falsetto in each that astounds. Gospel-infused St Jude walks a very lonesome road, and whilst it has much in common with the gentler tracks on the album, it has a distinct meditative tranquility that allows you to truly connect with the music.

Bluesy, gospel-tinged Mother sees the return of producer Paul Epworth who worked on Lungs and Ceremonials. Abandoning the use of signature instruments, the melody is carried by a heavy use of organ, quirky maracas and guitars. Once the chorus hits, you’re reminded why Florence + the Machine are so good at what they do.

At its core, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is an ode to destructive relationships, documenting a full circle of emotions – from loss to anger and eventual hints of recovery that stream through when you reach the final tracks. Fans new and old will definitely enjoy this one.

Words by Nizza Munoz

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