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Album Review: Florence and the Machine –High As Hope

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Florence and the Machine’s newest album, including collaborations in production with Jamie XX, Sampha and Kelsey Lu shows a conscious movement from the metaphorical to the confessional; its lyrics are breathtakingly raw and real.

Welch’s spirituality oozes from her music and performance, making her such a unique talent. High As Hope does not disappoint, allowing us to venture further into her poetic depiction of emotion. Amongst the anticipation for the new album, singles ‘Sky Full Of Song’, ‘Hunger’ and ‘Big God’ were released. ‘Sky Full of Song’ centres around Welch’s brilliantly strong vocals, beginning with a predominantly A Capella opening, with low pangs of deep strings which build tension, yet subtle enough not to distract from the centrepiece of her voice. Her artistic music video matches the simplicity, showing Welch kneeling whilst singing, as if praying. In a statement, Welch commented that the lyrics represent a lack of restraint whilst singing, “When you are performing you get so high, it’s hard to know how to come down”.

The lyrics, “Grab me by my ankles, I’ve been flying for too long, I couldn’t hide from the thunder in a sky full of song”, reflect a need for almost physical restraint, and this inescapable exposition that comes with performance. ‘Hunger’ is perhaps the most impressive song, lyrically, in which Welch expresses her ‘hunger’ for love and intimacy which she sought in self destructive ways. The honesty of the lyrics is what makes them so striking, “At seventeen, I started to starve myself, I thought that love was a kind of emptiness, And at least I understood then the hunger I felt, And I didn't have to call it loneliness”, “I thought that love was in the drugs, but the more I took the more it took away”. The strong beat of the piano and backing vocals of the chorus, “We all have a hunger” gives it a drive, as if a physical manifestation of the desperate need to satisfy the void of one’s ‘hunger’. The song ends with the beautiful lyric, “You make a fool of death with your beauty, and for a moment/ I forget to worry” as she finds herself infatuated with someone that feels the same ‘hunger’. The final single, ‘Big God’, featuring stomping low minor piano chords and a climatic instrumental, alludes to ‘ghosting’, “You keep me up at night To my messages, you do not reply, You know I still like you the most”, “You’ll always be my favourite Ghost”.The ‘Big God’ is needed to hold the love of the person and the internal frustration of the feeling of rejection.

The first track on the album, ‘June’, is filled with rich piano chords, lyrically centres around an all consuming and powerful love inspite of seeing “the sky as black”, And you're so high, you're so high, you had to be an angel, And I'm so high, I'm so high, I can see an angel”, “In those heavy days in June, When love became an act of defiance”. ‘South London Forever’ is an ode to reliving the innocence and naïve happiness of Welch’s youth, with an upbeat, nostalgic backing, “Oh, don't you know I have seen, I have seen the fields aflame, And everything I ever did, Was just another way to scream your name, Over and over again”. The brass in the backing seems in many ways almost patriotic.

Following on from ‘Sky Full of Song’ both tracks ‘Grace’ and last song ‘No Choir’ are stripped back, emotional and confessional lyrics – ‘Grace’ harks back to Welch’s mother deeming music as ‘dangerous’ yet she responds, “this is the only thing I’ve ever had faith in”, reflecting on her love, And you, you were the one I treated the worst, Only because you loved me the most, We haven't spoken in a long time, I think about it sometimes”.

‘Patricia’, a tribute to Patti Smith, features lyrics “Oh Patricia, You’ve always been my north star”, who taught her its “such a wonderful thing to love”. It features more of a climatic chorus, bearing the song’s energy, similar to the anthemic ‘Queen of Peace’ and ‘What Kind of Man’ from How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful in comparison to many of the stripped back songs from High As Hope. Arguably the best song on the album is The End of Love, with its hauntingly beautiful lyrics, presented in an almost hymn-like format with glorious harmonies. Stunning piano chords are reinforced by deep synths and strings, lending the song its intensity. The lyrics are perhaps some of the most confessional on the album, given the song’s title, I've always been in love with you, Could you tell it from the moment that I met you?”, “We were reaching in the dark, That summer in New York, And it was so far to fall, But it didn't hurt at all”.

High As Hope shows Welch’s musical ability to transcend emotions. She moves away from the at times extravagant instrumentals of previous albums, but keeps an essence of the same energy, particularly in songs like ‘Patricia’. Lyrically, the album truly surpasses itself in its honesty, and is truly exquisite in its execution.

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