Florence and the Machine

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

Island

Jul 09, 2015 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


The first two albums by Florence and the Machine were hardly feeble constructs, with Florence Welch's vocals front and center and demanding the attention of anyone within earshot. But with How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, Welch and company have produced a series of songs that truly match the singer's formidable vocals while providing the players plenty of room to shine.

Coupling a production that liberally adds strings and horns to the mix with a set of soul-baring lyrics, How Big has an operatic sweep at times. Considering how there's a voice involved that can comfortably scale heights in the range of Kate Bush at her most ambitious, this is a group that can pull off that kind of creative reach.

With "Ship to Wreck," the album begins with a rousing, galloping study in looming self-destruction: "I can't help but pull the earth around me to make my bed/Did I build this ship to wreck?" It's probably the best singalong to a worst-case scenario in recent memory.

Relationships are unpacked and examined throughout the lyrics. Tortured by longing in "Delilah," Welch swears she'll shake off attraction's pull soon: "I'm going to be free and I'm going to be fine/But maybe not tonight." Rock crunch from the band bolsters "What Kind of Man," with Welch bursting at the mic with questions for a lover that had best not go unanswered.

Some of the album's most memorable moments come when the power is dialed down, as with the moving "Long & Lost." But there's no denying how captivating this group can be when the arrangement allows them to fly free, and the title track shows them at their best. One minute the song has all the spectacle of a holiday parade, and the next you realize you're going to have Welch's gentle repeating of the title stuck in your head all week. And then comes the big brass finish. (www.florenceandthemachine.net)

Author rating: 7.5/10

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