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Florence and the Machine - High As Hope (Album Review)

Friday, 06 July 2018 Written by Laura Johnson

Florence and the Machine is a name that has become synonymous with OTT pop-rock and sweeping, ethereal elegance. Those turned off by Florence Welch’s banshee wail often overlook the fact that, whether she’s inhabiting a spare ballad or a busy, rousing soundscape, she steadfastly maintains a certain level of composure. This dynamic has worked in the past, but her new album proves that it’s a delicate one to maintain.

Just like the peaks and troughs in individual songs, ‘High As Hope’ is alight with energy one moment and mundane the next. Unfortunately, the latter is its default mode. Her intention may well have been to pare things down where previous releases have gone ‘full Florence’, but in doing so she has instigated a tug of war that no one wins.

Opening track June sets the tone with a slow build that never reaches a satisfying climax, despite its well-placed handclaps and frantic melodies. It’s a contrast to moments when Welch, who produced with Emile Haynie, displays an ear for when less is more.

Big God, a co-write with Jamie xx that also features horn arrangements by Kamasi Washington, and Sky Full of Song are both beautiful in their simplicity, making several other tracks here all the more frustrating.

Grace, for example, misses the mark completely. A collaboration with writers Tobias Jesso Jr. and Sampha, its piano line sounds like the lead in to a cheesy ballad. It’s an odd fit exacerbated by the fact that lyrically its message to Welch’s sister lands perfectly. “I don’t say it enough, Grace you are so loved,” she sings. Later she admits: “You are the one I treated the worst, only because you loved me the most.”

The album does well to showcase Welch’s lyrical chops, and also a newfound openness. She references the booze that she’s now kicked, gnawing loneliness and, on Hunger, a teenage eating disorder. It’s one of the LP’s strongest tracks, mixing vulnerable, haunting vocals with staccato lines that punctuate the beat before a compelling chorus.

South London Forever can’t carry its poetic lyric sheet in similar style, though. “Young and drunk and stumbling in the street outside the Joiners Arms,” Welch sings. “Like foals unsteady on their feet.” But, despite almost tribal drums propelling its intro and strings adding urgency, it is again pulled back for the finish.

Patricia is the last song of note on the record, with ‘High As Hope’ only winding down further after that. No Choir, despite its candid lyrics, is like a long fade-out. “Happiness is an extremely uneventful subject,” Welch ponders, though that doesn’t mean her tales of woe are any more lively. Here she pulls us down just as quickly as she once lifted us up.

Florence and the Machine Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Thu November 15 2018 - LEEDS first direct Arena
Fri November 16 2018 - BIRMINGHAM Genting Arena
Sat November 17 2018 - GLASGOW SSE Hydro
Mon November 19 2018 - DUBLIN 3Arena
Wed November 21 2018 - LONDON O2
Thu November 22 2018 - LONDON O2
Fri November 23 2018 - MANCHESTER Arena
Sun November 25 2018 - BRIGHTON Centre
Mon November 26 2018 - CARDIFF Motorpoint Arena Cardiff

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