“How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” is Florence And The Machine’s third studio album and the first album to reveal cracks in Florence’s mighty and grandiose exterior. Don’t be under any illusion — this third album maintains the unmistakable Florence and the Machine sound: theatrical, opulent, and altogether maximalist. Bold tribal drumbeats, orchestral brass and string instrumentation, and Welch’s extravagant vocals all combine to form a characteristic whole that would be entirely overwhelming and excessive if it weren’t for Welch’s expertly crafted melodies. Though HBHBHB still carries a big sound, there is a level of emotional vulnerability with this release that was not present in the band’s past efforts.
Lyrically, Welch reaches a new standard of eloquence, cohesion, and overall artistry in her song writing. HBHBHB carries more personal weight from song to song and it does so with more fragility. As she weaves a detailed story of lovesickness and heartbreak, Welch is more exposed and honest than ever before. The softer moments on the album — particularly “Long & Lost” and “St. Jude” — noticeably catch the ear, especially in contrast to Florence’s signature monumental pop style.
Perhaps her greatest vocal performance on HBHBHB is on the track “Various Storms & Saints”. Her operatic voice arcs magnificently against an angelic chorus and swelling string backdrop, but it has an overall feeling of minimalism largely due to the lack of percussion. We are well aware that Welch has the ability to take it up a notch and explode at any moment — but she restrains herself and the song is all the more powerful for it.
Still, Florence and The Machine do grandeur pop like no other, so it is only fitting that the strongest song on the album follows their foolproof formula for an indie masterpiece. “What Kind Of Man” is the kind of song that demands attention. The soft beginning takes a turn around one-minute in when commanding brass and a blistering electric guitar line swoop in and demand an answer as Welch calls out: “What kind of man loves like this?”. The shout-along chorus and hand-clapping percussion closely align this single with 2009’s “Dog Days Are Over”, but the resentful tone and electric influence in “What Kind Of Man” seem to also point towards Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep”.
The brave instrumentation, masterful songwriting, and Welch’s powerful vocals all come together flawlessly, allowing Florence to get personal in her own way and on her own terms. ‘‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’ is easily the most well-crafted personal statement and finest effort released by the band to-date.
Below are a few tracks off off the album to get you goin’. Make sure to go and get the album if you haven’t already!
***UPDATE – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful hit #1 on the Billboard charts! Congrats Florence!***
Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful