Artist: Florence and the Machine
Album: How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
Release Date: June 1, 2015
Label: Island Records
By now with the band releasing their third record, the gist of a Florence + The Machine album should be easy to guess.
A good bet says the music inside will be supernaturally grand, backed by a royal ensemble of strings, horns, and chest-beating drums. The leading force of course would be Florence Welch’s powerful vocals reaching high and mighty. Together, the music has the intensity and otherworldliness to transform a festival set into an all-out church gathering. At the very least, it’s a style of pop music perfectly fitting for director Baz Luhrman’s flamboyant adaptation of The Great Gatsby.
The band got their game down to a tee in their previous album, Ceremonials, but Welch has something different up her sleeve for How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. A shift in style was already apparent when she shared her first single, “What Kind of Man,” earlier this year. Welch let herself loose on the track over an electric blues riff. Rather than being shrunken down as a victim, she led the trial with her voice striking with edge. Her performance glowed with much more self-confidence while showing an effort to move out of her comfort zone.
Though the electric guitar may make less of an appearance than desired, the change-up inside How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful makes for a refreshing new sound for Florence + The Machine. Their new sound call upon the golden Los Angeles rock of the ‘70s on top of their signature style. The production focuses on creating an open and vast atmosphere rather than bulking its size and weight. The title track sounds more in the vein of traditional Florence + The Machine with its band of horns, but the music plays out softer and more relaxed. Even when the music strives for a more dramatic hit, as in “Queen of Peace,” it always plays second to Welch, who is given a lot of room to breathe and move freely.
While previous Florence + The Machine records had the band throwing their arms up to the skies, the standouts in How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful has them shimmying on stage. Album opener “Ship to Wreck” is the big dance number led by its glittered guitar riff and skittering drum beat. There’s also Welch charmingly ad-libbing on the second verse as if she’s striking a move. And like that pose for the camera in “Ship to Wreck”, she sings on her more body-moving jams as one showy performer. “Hiding” also spotlights Welch’s performance with her working a pre-chorus that pops while hitting her high notes for the main hook.
The brighter grooves of the album double as a satisfying outlet to relieve one’s inner blues. Welch herself rocks to the music to mend her heart as well: “never knew I was a dancer until Delilah showed me how,” she sings in “Delilah.” Her towering vocals has already proved to be a powerful tool to rid emotional pains since the days of her debut, Lungs. The way she owns the stage on “Ship to Wreck” or “Queen of Peace” by wearing her heart on her sleeve provides not only a moment to wallow but also a confident foot forward for self-recovery. It helps both songs have a show-stopping riff or a triumphant horn melody to march on ahead.
A word that sticks out from How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is “free,” a state she strives to be throughout the album. “I am teaching myself how to be free,” she sings on the hook-less “Various Storms & Saints.” Welch doesn’t exactly escape from her past loves, and her life post-split doesn’t always look so pretty. That said, the livelihood of her music shines with enough optimism to present the album as a final nail in the coffin than yet another story about a crushed Florence Welch. She shouted “shake it out” and “leave the past behind” in Ceremonials. This time, she’s taking her own advice.