A distant beat, almost like an alarm, a warning, pulls you into the beginning of Florence + The Machine’s fourth full-length record, “High As Hope.” The opening track, June, is one of many with a definitive time and place. Florence “woke up in Chicago” and began writing for this record before finishing the tour of another.
“This album just kind of flowed out,” says lead vocalist, Florence Welch, in her BBC 1 interview.
She did not take a break after touring her “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” project in July of 2016. This record’s creation was different: it’s the first project she’s written sober, but she did not do so intentionally. This project was a selfish venture as she began working on her personal demons. Without the emotional arm’s length of alcohol and hallucinogens, this journey created Welch’s most intimate work yet.
In her ethereal body, Welch houses a primordial soul fighting it’s way to belonging through her sage lyrics. Her enormous vocals hold heaviness of all the years seen by her much older soul. Welch co-produced “High As Hope” with Emile Haynie, the producer of Lana Del Rey’s “Born To Die” record. The warm strings, confident drums and triumphant brass frame her voice with rich instrumental mixes. It’s stripped back, compared to Florence + The Machine’s other projects, pairing exquisitely with the more intimate lyrics of this record.
Welch’s bellowing gales singing the heartbreak in her past albums give way to a flourishing of understanding in this record. “High As Hope” chronicles Flo’s reach for something bigger than herself. The powerful chanting of “hold on to each other” and “it’s such a wonderful thing to love” echo her solace in the wake of the self-destruction of her three preceding albums. Welch’s grand storm of vocal power finds a place in “High As Hope” alongside vulnerable falsettos poignantly contrasting in their cradling of personal poetry.
Three singles were released prior to the album: “Sky Full of Song,” “Hunger” and “Big God.” After the June 26 album release, Welch performed “Patricia”, an ode to our lord and savior, Patti Smith, as a single as well.
Among her more powerful pieces, “Big God” is a guttural hymn of innuendo and exorcism. “100 Years,” another commanding piece, beats like a battle cry or activist anthem responding to a political climate and recent events of human suffering. “Hunger,” her second track and single preceding the record, was never meant to be music.
“It’s too personal,” explains Welch in an interview with BBC 1. A track that started as a poem reveals her struggles with an eating disorder and acknowledging her own humanity.
“South London Forever” is a wistful reflection of her childhood. The warm mix wrenches your heart into a thick reminiscence. A pallet of youth’s vivacity, a sharp longing for belonging, and euphoric reflection of stumbling through the vibrancy of youth painted by this piece so fondly into a relatable sentiment. It feels like a hindsight, stopping to smell the roses. It’s a final year of high school feeling where everything seems to take on significance.
“High As Hope” is bookended with “No Choir” which is exactly that: just Welch and a piano. It’s a truth Welch has uncovered in her time of healing: there is beauty in the mundane and so much humanity in loneliness. With stings gently unfolding before us, we find happiness does not have to be loud; it can be boring and normal and still happy.
This is not a heartbreak record like Welch has written before. Welch summarizes it best on BBC 1, “There’s like a bigger heartbreak underneath, which is, perhaps, that you didn’t love yourself.” It’s a turn inward, a response a loneliness inside of herself and that she’s seen reflected in others. It’s human.