Release Date: Jun 29, 2018
Record label: Republic
Less is more has never been Florence + the Machine's mantra, especially back in the days of Lungs (2009) and Ceremonials (2011), with Florence Welch having stated that when it comes to her songwriting, 'Everything is a crescendo. ' But almost a decade since the band's debut album, Welch makes a return with High As Hope, proving that you can have a hair-raising powerhouse of a record without the unnecessary bell, whistles and gothic melodrama. Picking up from where How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful left off three years ago, High As Hope strips things right back, culling off all traces of bombast and cryptic meanings, choosing instead to shoot straight to the point musically and lyrically, making this one hell of a raw album to digest.
It seems like a whole different world now, those heady days of 2007 when Florence Welch and her Machine started to break through. Excitable early gigs, an appearance at SxSW which ended up with her diving straight into an ornamental pond and scrappy, knockabout and exhilarating songs like the (now rather problematic) Kiss With A Fist. Since then, Welch has slowly become one of the biggest stars on the planet, breaking America and filling stadiums the world over.
To make fourth album 'High As Hope', Florence Welch headed home. Crafting the first stages of the record in her house in Peckham, she cycled every day into the South London hotspot's creative hub, the Bussey Building, to - as she put it - "bang on the wall with sticks". It was then taken to Los Angeles, given a lick of paint and gathered contributions from friends such as Sampha, Kamasi Washington and Jamie xx, but it's this nucleus of the record, formed back home, that gives it its identity: 'High As Hope' is a record that relies on comfort, togetherness and familiarity in an increasingly alien and cold world.
It begins at an ending, picking up where predecessor How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful left off to beat on against the tide into the ocean of oddity where Welch feels most at home. This is not the hurricane drunk Welch of her early twenties, nor the polished perfection of her band's sophomore album. Unusually for Florence + the Machine, High As Hope boasts temperance over bombast, sincerity over spectacle.
Florence and the Machine have always flirted with the idea of stripping their sound back. There's been a string of acoustic tracks released as extras - before the MTV Unplugged album - while 2015's How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful was billed as the album where the band properly committed to the idea - although few others would describe the theatrical, rock-driven album in the same way. So when Sky Full of Song was released as High as Hope's first single, a song that consists of little more than vocals and double bass, it seemed like this time around there may be the songs to back up the buzzwords.
Florence Welch's music has always been as large and chaotic as her personality. She pours every ounce of energy into her music and live performances. From the rambunctious folk pop of her first album with band Florence + The Machine, Lungs, the giant orchestral arrangements of sophomore Ceremonials to the crashing alt rock of How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful.
For Florence + the Machine's fourth full-length, High as Hope, Florence Welch digs deep, meditating on the highs used to fill the holes in our souls, be it drugs, alcohol, reckless love, or spirituality. Over the course of this concise and cohesive journey, she discovers life is about learning to live in the space between the extremes, embracing the normalcy of that middle ground between passionate highs and empty lows. Gone is the sun-splashed grandeur of How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful and the anthemic bombast of Lungs and Ceremonials.
Florence Welch is the big sister you wish you had: wild enough to be a co-conspirator, together enough to be an inspiration, even a role model. On High As Hope, the fourth and most intimate Florence + the Machine LP, she recalls hijinks on MDMA, confesses to an eating disorder, and apologizes for ruining your birthday. Or someone's, anyhow. It's cool, though -- you'll forgive her, 'cause that's just Flo, y'know? Her confidences may be performative, but they're palpable.
The Lowdown: In an age where the majority of rock music that gets played on the airwaves and blasts from the headlining slots at music festivals comes from artists whose biggest hits were over 20 years ago, Florence Welch stands as a welcome anomaly. In the nine years since the first Florence + The Machine album was released, Welch has taken massive strides to the top alongside her massive voice and entrancing stage presence, both of which worked to elevate familiar power ballads. As one of the last rock stars who can rightfully be called a star, Welch writes the kind of songs to fill a packed field, tasked with making a connection with each of the thousands watching her.
'Stripped of excess, Flo's truth shines on the safe but subtle album number four' Florence Welch has been very open how recent years have seen her kick the bottle, the excesses and the 'two day parties' that filled the void between touring life and reality. Here on album number four, you sense that she's finally found comfort at home. Her usual wuthering whimsy on 'South London Forever' is anchored now the modesty of returning to where she came from.
Filling empty spaces is a theme that shapes Florence and the Machine's fourth album, High As Hope. In a departure from 2015's How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, the album eschews guitar rock-oriented maximalism and soaring catharsis in favor of quieter orchestral moments. The band opens nearly every track with either plaintive piano, somber strings, or even a cappella vocals before then gradually layering these sparse arrangements to varying degrees.
Someone once described Florence and the Machine to me as something akin to “being in a new wave church,” a description I find remains as pertinent as ever. High as Hope marches into 2018 as Florence Welch’s most pious record, albeit to subjects she finds worthy of her faith: her hometown, the LGBTQ community, Patti Smith. These subjects arrive alongside themes and musical elements we’ve seen from the Machine before: big open skies (How Big, How Blue .
Florence + The Machine are a band with a certain identity, often typecast alongside imagery of nature and the mystique; perhaps it's something about the resounding croons of Florence herself, and her ability to fill even the most minimalist of soundscapes. 'High As Hope' brings Florence cohesively into her newest evolution, with the record's often sparse atmosphere led by emphatic vocals. Stripped back and unapologetic, Florence Welch's fourth record as Florence + the Machine carries a sense of nakedness never seen before - it's self-aware, remorseless, and raw.
It's hard to mistake Florence Welch's voice for anyone else's. Play any record she's made with her band the Machine, and her electrifying timbre is the first thing you'll notice. Add her ear for melody and a knack for inescapable hooks, and it's easy to see why her music has had such staying power since the band's 2009 debut. After a four-year hiatus between studio albums, Welch and company came roaring back with 2015's "How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful," a searing record that became their first No.