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Florence and The Machine - High As Hope

Florence and The Machine – High As Hope

Who would have guessed that an on-the-spot singing audition in the toilet of a club in 2006 would result in Florence Welch headlining the Pyramid Stage less than ten years later? It's been some journey for this most unlikely of pop stars. It is this, her fourth album, that marks Florence Welch as a continually maturing artist who, whilst still dealing with heightened melodrama, has tempered that tendency for overwroughtness into more considered, and personal outpourings; what she has recently called less 'Florence-y'.

Although the big tribal drums, mass voices, her own big showy voice, and an epic tapestry of orchestral pop still dominates, often successfully, the follow up to 2015's How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful sees Welch being a little sparser on occasion. Her voice is intimate when it wants to be and the details of her lyrics are much more personal, and less-metaphor strewn. She has got to know herself a lot better, and is willing to let others in on her inner-most secrets and thinking. The lyrically revealing moments on High As Hope are what makes this by far her most important album.

"Now I’ve realised that that nugget of insecurity and loneliness is a human experience. The big issues are there however you address them,” Welch has recently said. By talking about her personal demons and anxieties to friends and family, and in song, and by coming out of her cocoon of denial, she has realised that, by and large, we all go through the same things. This realisation has been revolutionary for Welch, and High As Hope comes across like a form of self-revealing therapy.

"The show is ending and I started to cry", sings Welch on the opening track, 'June', a strong indication that, as she has admitted, being on stage has acted as a kind of isolation and a moment of 'peace' from the internal turmoil she has been experiencing ever since a teenager. The driving pop of 'Hunger' reveals her teenage difficulties with food and love, whilst using hunger as a metaphor for the dreams and hopes that she and her friends all had in spades in their individualistic pursuit of identity: "At 17 I started to starve myself / I thought love was a kind of emptiness... but all had a hunger".

Drinking and drug taking is a big feature on High As Hope, Welch none too shy to admit its shrouding qualities, and her capacity to imbibe plenty of it, albeit remembered with a certain fondness at times, rather than a self-lacerating finger-wagging. It's there on 'South London Forever', an uplifting nostalgic trip back to her South London roots: having fun, getting drunk. Elsewhere, though, there are plenty of strong hints that she has had her time doing all that stuff, which she believes was obscuring what she really needed, and wanted; an unfettered love, and ability to find love and hope within, without the aid of intoxicants.

When the accelerator is eased and the volume turned down, Welch turns in some of her most poignant performances. Such as the piano-led 'Grace', which again deals with regret: "I'm sorry I ruined your birthday / I guess I could go back to university, try and make my mother proud, try and stop this dangerous phase she deems". While 'Sky Full of Song' pairs a country-style delivery and typically lucid lyricism about youthful hedonism, with double bass and muted orchestration. The adventurous musicality of 'Patricia' initially involves a folksy drone before an ecstatically thumping beat takes the song on a journey that also involves swirling strings and a particularly powerful vocal performance from Welch. Similarly '100 Years' is just voice and simple piano melody before the band and orchestra are cranked up, as Welch turns on the optimism: "I believe in you and in our hearts we know the truth / And I believe in love and the darker it gets, the more I do", whilst simultaneously worrying that she may be trying too hard.

Welch also said recently, “I wonder sometimes, did I dream too big?” This sentiment is expressed on 'The End of Love', which deals with romantic love, and how she is perhaps learning to not expect too much, in order to manage her emotional health. That she has learned to love romantically and from free will, and not to enter a relationship in order to replace something she’s missing from her life. The graceful final track takes this further, 'No Choir', a metaphor of sorts indicating that love doesn't have to be loud, and that in her whirlwind life of alternating being on-stage and in quietude, she is learning to adapt and accept: "And if tomorrow it's all over / At least we had it for a moment / Oh, darling, things seem so unstable / But for a moment we were able to be still".

Jeff Hemmings

Website: florenceandthemachine.net
Facebook: facebook.com/florenceandthemachine
Twitter: twitter.com/flo_tweet


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