How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful by Florence + The Machine
After nearly a three and half year hiatus, Florence and The Machine are back with their third album entitled, “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful.” It’s a soaring masterpiece that feels somehow both familiar and entirely different at the same time.
The soaring harps, bombastic drum line and delicate orchestral dimensions from Lungs and Ceremonials have been replaced by a classic 1970s sounding lineup of simple drums, jangling guitars and occasional horn section that on the title track sound like a trumpeting herald from the Middle Ages announcing Florence’s return. In the past, Florence has used the thick background music with it’s heavy reverb to downplay her voice, who in reality despite her giddy stage presence is actually a very shy person. The heavy music gave her something to hide behind, allowing her vocals to shine only when she wanted them to and it served to take all the focus off of her for a time. Hendrix was known to do the same, only allowing the producers to bring his vocals up in the mix after much persuasion. Now however with the stripped back sound on this album, Florence finally takes center stage, her vocals soaring and gliding across and above the music at times like a mystical bird and at others howling into the speakers like a virtual storm ready to engulf the listener in her waves.
For fans of the band, this departure from the celestial sounds we last heard on Ceremonials may come as a bit of a shock. But it’s unfair to expect an artist as young as Florence (she’s only 28) to stick to the same genre for the rest of her career and this album was a literal form of creative expression on her part. Coming out a rough year of personal turmoil, Florence turned to music to alleviate the pain and come to terms with who she is as a person. This is clearly reflected throughout the album with lyrics describing hopeless relationships, lost loves, chaos and self-destruction, but also finding the positives and trying to move forward. All of these themes are mixed in with the usual ethereal, spiritual,and mystical themes that surround Florence’s work. As a result the album is both a heartbreaking yet gorgeous travel through a young woman’s physique. It’s a album full of drama and despair yet there is still hope within and it’s simply an exhilarating ride from start to finish.
The album begins with “Ship to Wreck,” a song that despite its uptempo classic rock style beat behind it, is actually about Florence questioning what she’s done wrong to make her relationship fail. She asks her hypothetical lover what she’s said or done to make him turn away and in the end can’t decide if she’d rather continue to self-destruct or let the Earth swallow her whole to let the sadness end.
Continuing with the hopeless relationship theme in “What Kind of Man,” Florence acknowledges that her lover probably no longer harbors the same feelings for her and she should let the relationship end but can’t find the will to do so. Her love and devotion for this man overwhelm her and even though she’s unhappy and feels trapped, she can’t let him go.
“St. Jude” and “Caught” seem like the sequels to “What Kind of Man,” where Florence finally acknowledges that perhaps the reason she keeps hanging on to this particular lover is the fact that she has become accustomed to the chaos that surrounds it. She’s so used to the fighting and despair that she wonders what will become of her if she lets that slip away. Can she handle a life of peace and happiness or is that just not in the books for her? In “Caught,” she realizes that she’ll never find the answer to this question if she doesn’t try to move on. She’s apprehensive about doing so because leaving behind everything you’ve known is a major step but she’s willing to try.
“Long & Lost” and “How Big, How How Blue and How Beautiful,” is a contemplative Florence who is vulnerable and raw after having left her love behind. She questions whether her lover ever thinks about her and if he even misses her at all. Though she herself still thinks about him from time to time, she’s moved forward and acknowledges she can’t have him back. The time has passed for reunions and she’s finallyburned her bridges that will lead her astray and back to her life of former chaos and unease with him. However, she holds out the hope that maybe they’ll meet again one day when they are both in a better place.
“Mother,” “Various Storms and Saints,” “Third Eye,” and “Delilah,” find Florence in a forgiving and hopeful mood. She acknowledges the mistakes of her past and is trying to find a way to forgive herself for some of the more rash decisions she made in her younger days. Older and wiser now, she is more guarded and careful about giving all of herself over to the first man she falls head over heels for. She realizes that she needs to explore her own psychique and comes to terms with herself as a person before she lapses back into her old habits. She’s learning how to be free and not tied down to one thing. It’s a rebirth, a revelation and a new Florence. Still glorious, still beautiful, still haunting but one no longer trapped by her past. It’s time to rejoice and be free. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful indeed!