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Album Review: Florence and the Machine Reaches New Heights with ‘High as Hope’

Florence’s machine weaves intimate confessions with an experimental sound

Florence Welch’s operatic voice and otherworldly grace could raise the dead, open faerie portals, and turn men into stone with just a note. Her musical etherealness has earned her a moment in pop culture with her ‘Big Witch Energy’ or ‘BWE’ as NME described after Welch joined indie musician Maggie Rogers during a show.

Their fourth album ‘High as Hope’ is the culmination of Welch embracing sobriety, loneliness, and her struggles with depression, social anxiety, and eating disorders throughout her rise to fame in the last decade. Welch’s surprising confession “At seventeen I started to starve myself/ I thought that love was a kind of emptiness” in her single “Hunger” set the tone for the rest of the album as Welch explores her vulnerability and loneliness. With vulnerable lyrics backed by upbeat strings and simple, piano chords “Hunger” stands out as the band’s obligatory pop-ish song. Although lacking in the same frenetic energy as “Dog Days Are Over” or the confidence of “Shake It Out”, the single reaches out and reassures listeners in the same way as the band’s chart toppers.

Throughout their previous albums, Welch mentions her travels to Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, but her dedication to London in “South London Forever” draws on her college years spent in Camberwell. Alluding to her dabbling in drugs and alcohol, Welch reminisces about her wild nights spent in South London and worries about her future with “But did I dream too big? Do I have to let it go?/ And what if one day there is no such thing as snow?/ Oh God, what do I know?” The slow build to her triumphant last chorus and verses feels like coming home after a long break, Welch’s existential crisis echoing in the minds of worried students and young adults.

The most surprising track off “High as Hope” is the hauntingly, bewitching song “Big God”, with Welch belting out “You need a big god/Big enough to hold your love” to an ex-lover ghosting her. The sinuous stomp and orchestral build are reminiscent of her second and third albums “Ceremonials” and “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” while lending to the band’s attempt at their musical experimentation.

Welch shows off the band’s slow orchestral builds with the apology song “Grace” for the singer’s younger sister. Confessing “I am sorry that I ruined your birthday, you had turned 18”, Welch profusely apologizes to her sister and parents for ruining family functions and her collegiate career. Blaming her alcoholism and drug usage, Welch and the heavenly choir call out to “Grace” and voices the apologizes buried deep in the soul.

Despite the experimentation and changes from previous albums, Welch stays true to her iconic orchestral sound with her dreamy “The End of Love”. Retelling family drama and her ancestor’s Noah Flood experience in early 1900’s Galveston, Texas, the band uses a lyrical string section, operatic notes, and familiar piano chords from “Big God” to create a spellbinding chorus. Although the same bewitching piano and lyrics can be found in “Big God”, “The End of Love” casts a simple love spell and doesn’t hold back with the sound of longing for relationships to be repaired. Welch’s emotions translate into her voice during this track, her wishful, softness bringing the album to a melancholic climax before the last track.

The last track on the album is the short, confessional “No Choir” with Welch singing “But the loneliness never left me/I always took it with me/But I can put it down in the pleasure of your company” confronts her music career and state of loneliness in show business. This declaration of self-reliance is a sign of growth from the artist’s 2008 hit “Dog Days Are Over” lyrics “leave all your love and your longing behind, you can’t carry it with you if you want to survive” and reminds listeners of the importance of self-growth, introspection, and reliance. The stripped down ballad ends prematurely with a literal interpretation of “No ballad will be written/ This will be entirely forgotten” by singing a lilting, unfinished outro. This pessimistic take on her career and loneliness reiterates the band’s divergence from their vague, metaphors and takes a few steps towards an honest sound.

Welch diverges from her orchestral beginnings of ‘Lungs’ and ‘Ceremonials’-- instead of a concert hall of sound, ‘High as Hope’ feels like an intimate, unplugged session. No longer is Welch weaving elaborate metaphors to her personal opera, but ripping pages straight out of her journal and singing with the candor we have always longed for.


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