FOR ALL FREE spirits and wannabe English teachers out there, Florence Welch is a guide. Her prancing, wafting and references to twentieth century female authors regularly attract large crowds to her and her machine’s concerts, as well as placing her high up on festival wish lists. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful will no doubt send fan boys and girls alike raving with excitement, what with it being four years since the release of Ceremonials, the band’s last album.
Since Ceremonials, Florence has changed her persona from tragic Romantic to something not quite defined. There don’t appear to be any underlying themes running through How Big…. Indeed, the black and white photo on the album’s cover does little to give away any sort of character that Florence is taking on. There’s a certain nature to the music that’s developed as well. I was a big fan of opening single ‘What Kind of Man’, with its chunky rock beat and very un-Florence feel. It’s a song that deals with the ‘heavier’ side; heavy for Florence, that is.
On the flip side, we have this new found fascination with brass instruments, something that Welch stretches into many intros and outros to her songs,to the extent that it sometimes gets ever so slightly tiresome. Otherwise, there isn’t anything particularly wrong with this album, musically anyway. There’s some really good beats to some of these tracks, particularly ‘Delilah’, ‘Queen of Peace’ and ‘Mother’. Florence doesn’t forget the tender moments though. The title track is incredibly lovely, and ‘Long and Lost’ is a slow moving number with ghostly backing vocals and minimal guitar.
Florence’s vocals are enjoyable as well, if slightly generic. There’s only so many times a note can be held and warbled for an extensive period before it gets slightly irritating. Alas, there are one or two moments where this happens. However, this does not ruin the album. It’s a small blip on an otherwise enjoyable performance. One of my favourite performances from the singer comes at the start of ‘Third Eye’, where Florence seems to emulate Kate Bush. I’m sure it’s only a certain amount of time before she’s pumping out her own Hounds of Love.
As I mentioned earlier, How Big… has no specific identity. Lungs felt naive and pop-worthy at times. Ceremonials brought out the serious side of both the singer and the band. How Big… is left open to interpretation, but with that comes more emphasis on the songs as opposed to trying to create a theme. The result is an album where every song is a triumph, while remaining diverse and creative.
Where Florence and the Machine will go from here is anyone’s guess. With a few minor tweaks they could quite easily produce one of the finest female vocal centric albums of the 2010s. For now, at least, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful will surely please avid fans and casual listeners alike.
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