In 2015, Florence + The Machine was the first female headlining artist at Glastonbury Festival. You should think it can’t get any better for a UK artist and that this would be the perfect timing for a well-deserved break from the business.
Her medial absence suggested something like this, since her only two noteworthy public intermezzos were a cover version of “Stand By Me”, Ben E. King’s soul-classic together with two more original songs, all for a video game of the Final Fantasy franchise and a short movie called The Odyssey which mainly consisted of her recent music videos.
Well, either a break or going straight from touring back to the recording studio. The latter it was, of course: Florence confirmed working on a new project back in May last year.
Fast forward another year of radio silence and here we are, 12 April 2018: The first life sign “A Sky Full of Song” comes with a minimalistic, still-life driven video and describes Welch’s feelings when performing live. “Grab me by my ankles, I’ve been flying for too long / I couldn’t hide from the thunder in a sky full of song”, she sings.
A metaphor for the drug-like highs she gets out of her performances and the subsequent plunges that leave the singer anxious and lonely. This first single, with its orchestral instrumental and rather metaphoric lyrics makes it a well-made transition from How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful to High As Hope, which contains, unlike her previous records, more stripped down and literal songs.
Less than a month later, in May, the lead single “Hunger” premieres during Annie Mac’s ‘Sounds Like Friday Night’ on BBC Radio 1. While the video builds on the visual of “A Sky Full of Song”, in “Hunger”, Welch works up her feelings about todays youth and her own teenage years.
The powerful instrumental carries the listener along verses like “I thought that love was in the drugs / but the more I took, the more it took away / and I could never get enough”, reflecting her own experience of feeling lost as a teenager. Welch opposes verses like “Oh and you in all your vibrant youth / How could anything bad ever happen to you?”, about how today’s teenagers and their ability to change things inspire her.
Her acclaimed performance at Southbank’s Royal Festival Hall in the end of May and the release of the third single “Big God” just a few days prior to album release follow. “Big God” strikes a different tone than most of Florence and the Machine’s previous songs.
The gritty piano mood, Welch using dark chest voice and laryngeal sounds, as well as the strict choreography of her and a group of dancers under colourful veils in the music video contribute to an expressive song that is mainly about the indie-rock singer experiencing being “ghosted”.
On June 29, High As Hope finally hits the record stores, online shops and streaming services. Less than a week after, Welch lands the promotional stunt of the year by announcing an intimate pub gig via Twitter. The chosen pub couldn’t possibly be any other than Camberwell owns Joiners’ Arms, where Florence Welch grew up and spent most of her teenage nights out.
What made this concert so special, was the relation to her new album: The stand-out track “South London Forever” is an ode to Camberwell and Welch’s youth. “Young and drunk and stumbling in the street / outside the Joiners’ Arms like foals unsteady on their feet”, was the significant line of this song that was posted on a billboard on the same pub just that day. You can imagine the queues that formed outside of said pub just hours before the show!
Florence + the Machine’s fourth studio album is a remarkable and progressive successor to How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful to which it considerably differs. Musically, the band develops from an orchestral, full sound towards a simpler, more straight-forward gospel-like sound, while Florence remains a preacher of her words. Most of which come out in a more literal and relatable way, like in June, Hunger or the stand-out track South London Forever – which just makes the record even more personal than the previous ones.
The Camberwell born musician doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore, to the listener it feels like she merely wants to process her personal life in art. Perhaps this is the reason why her new record is as relevant and praised by critics as her debut album Lungs, which was released more than nine years ago – perhaps satisfying her fans with great music is just a side effect.
The album release is followed by a world tour in the autumn, starting in the US in September, before heading to the UK including two dates in London in November, Australia and New Zealand in January and the rest of Europe in March. The fact that most of the UK dates are already sold out is not surprising, considering Welch’s status in her home country is the one of a goddess on earth.
You can purchase High As Hope by Florence + the Machine on iTunes here, and stream it on Spotify below.
by Lukas Haertel