Florence + The Machine has finally released their much anticipated third studio album, How Big How Blue How Beautiful, which was announced in late 2014. If you are new to the Flo game, then this may not be the place to start. That being said, this album is a step away from its two predecessors. Florence fans tend to hold on to an album and scrutinize the others, thinking they may be “alright” or subpar but really this is not a problem with the music. It is almost grounding to see that Florence Welch is learning about life and living each day. No need to search for a sound that will float the group for years to come; it’s about the journey and change. This is another reason fans hold special places for each arc of Florence in their hearts; they may be in a similar state as her when she wrote that period of music. But people change, life moves on, and so does Florence + The Machine.
Although this album had a lot of hype when it was announced, that hype changed veins when its first single “What Kind of Man” was released. Reviews were seemingly split amongst listeners. My theory is that this reception is not necessarily related to the song-writing or the content, but the instrumentation and direction. It has been a while since Lungs was circulating and the explosive power of Ceremonials that received even more international attention. In “What Kind of Man,” the guitar is a critical part of the song. It’s classic bass-line riff pulls the song through to support Welch in spitting out whatever she feels through her normally composed and dynamic voice. The main focus of Ceremonials was an aesthetic created by piano, synthesizers, harp and percussion. The guitar was never in the spotlight. Florence + The Machine is cleaning up their sound this time around by also bringing in some soft horn melodies over the top to create the currently very popular horn section sound.
This is by no means a bad thing. As Welch said herself, “I guess although I’ve always dealt in fantasy and metaphor when I came to writing, that meant the songs this time were dealing with much more in reality. Ceremonials was so fixated on death and water.” If she wants to write a rock-driven song, let her write a rock-driven song, if it means a lot to her this time. And let’s be honest, most people are dealing with the trouble of love, loss and sobriety. You go, Flo.
Even so, “What Kind of Man” does not fully represent How Big How Blue How Beautiful as an album. “Ship to Wreck” has an indie-film (driving down a road in a retro convertible Mustang ’88 running away from life as we know it) vibe. The drums act as a kit more than in her previous tracks, with a bell-guitar duo tune floating under and between Florence, leading a catchy story through her voice. Welch has found her inner Janis Joplin in the past year or so. “Delilah” opens with a call and response similar to the Florence + The Machine we have known in the past, so fear not Ceremonials lovers, there is still hope for you for this album. It sticks to simpler chord progressions like most of the album, and presents pop-percussion but is a great dance track with Welch’s voice unleashed.
The pop sound flies by with the tracks “Caught,” “Third Eye,” and “St. Jude”. Their sound, developed by producer Markus Dravs, compliments Welch’s voice and this time more simple writing style to create a fundamentally classic pop piece of art. These tracks really define the sound aimed for in How Big How Blue How Beautiful. In review, Florence + The Machine has traded in their heartbeat tom drums for a four piece drum kit, so leave your witch cloaks and celestial crystals at home.
RIYL: Janis Joplin, Kate Nash, Marina and the Diamonds
Key tracks: “Delilah,” “Caught,” “Third Eye”