Florence + The Machine
High as Hope
Universal Music / Republic Records · June 29, 2018
“How deep are you sleeping / or are you still awake? / A good friend told me that you’ve been staying out so late / Be careful oh my darling / oh be careful what it takes / From what I’ve seen so far the good ones always seem to break.”
– ‘Sky Full of Song’
Florence + The Machine’s fan base is a diverse one. Some appreciate Flo for her integration of stringed and other classical instruments into her music. Others acknowledge her clever lyrics that seem to depict relationships and experiences better than they ever could. There are even a few fans that come for her occasionally religious perspective. High as Hope brought all of these things to the table along with a unique musicality. Some of them called upon the full orchestra with a background choir just like in her hit song ‘Dog Days Are Over.’ Others brought forward a solo cello, a heavy jazz beat with a string bass as the focal point, or a fiddle with an electric keyboard to lighten the mood. She successfully put together instrumentals that highlighted the intense moments and under-toned the simply beautiful moments of the album.
“You make a fool of death with your beauty / and for a moment I forget to worry.” – ‘Hunger’
Reviewing this album was admittedly tricky — when it comes to Florence + The Machine, it is so tempting to listen only to the music and forget about the lyrics. One listen wasn’t enough to get the job done, but listening and looking to understand the complexities of her lyrics was a rewarding task. Symbolic language, which she makes use of to describe individuals who have left a mark on her life, successfully embeds itself into almost every line she sings. She also plays with a new lyrical theme that develops throughout the album: the seasons. This is a clever move, as she uses this theme to develop and better describe previous relationships: “We were reaching in the dark, that summer in New York. And it was all for fun, but it didn’t hurt at all” (‘The End of Love’).
A separate addendum to her typical lyrical genius is the wisdom she seems to bring to the plate this time around, which takes the shape of humility as she recognizes her shortcomings: “I was beginning to lose my wit, and I have always had it loosely. This time I admit, I really felt it slip” (‘June’). This is refreshing in a time when Kanye West can sell an album by impressing his ego into every line of every song.
“At 17, 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 / We all have a Hunger.” – ‘Hunger’
Speaking of Kanye, let’s talk about mental health. It’s a touchy subject, but Flo handles it well. She speaks her truth without calling upon the flaws of others, she points out the difficulty of recovery, and she calls upon the innate beauty of the individual – all done with grace. Atypical for the music industry? Definitely.
Another atypical turn for modern music: religious influence. Although Florence + The Machine has written religion (specifically, Christianity) into music before, Florence does it in a much more fluid way on this album. The song ‘Big God’ was an opportunity for Florence to flex her vocal strength and flexibility more than it was for her to preach. Outside of this song, religion is brought up on three sparse occasions but never feels forced.
“There will be no grand choirs to sing / no chorus will come in / no ballad will be written / It will be entirely forgotten.” – ‘No Choir’
With all this praise must come the truth: this album isn’t perfect. She released 10 impressive songs, and she managed to add depth not previously seen, but she didn’t do anything remarkable. This is a low-risk release with great results for its risk level. However, it would’ve been nice to hear something new, anything different. There are no featured artists and no musical experiments. Throughout the entire album, it is made clear that no equity will be taken away from Florence Welch and put in the hands of the many impressive instrumental musicians she works with.
This is a great solo album, but it’s the last one I want to hear from Florence + The Machine. They have a well-established sound that will continue to impress her fans. But this act runs the risk of getting old for anyone who isn’t a die-hard fan.