High as Hope, the fourth Florence and the Machine album has been released and that means one of two things. I will either put on my headphones and put the volume as high as possible and risk deafness, because damn it, if I’m losing my hearing, it’ll be listening to a Florence and the Machine album. Alternatively, I put it on the sound system and give in to my generous nature and share the album with the neighbourhood.
Each album released by the band has charted Florence Welch’s development as an artist. Not one has been a failure, not one can be looked upon now as comparatively lesser to her current output, but each shows her grow new abilities – and grow upon existing abilities – as an artist.
High as Hope probably marks the most thematically pure album to date. As each song moves to the next, it feels more a part of an ongoing tale than separate. It has its highlights (to my mind, ‘Hunger’, and ‘Big God’) but not a single misfire. The fact that each song can merge together in one larger creation could be a weakness if the tone were not so firmly and artfully executed.
2015’s How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful still likely stands as the peak of Welch’s skills but this newest album excels in its own way. Her greatest skill as an artist is possibly her ability to turn emotion into art and while this has led to some bombastic and grand sweeping songs, it has never overwhelmed the art she seeks to channel it in to. It’s a goal of many artists and few achieve it with quite the strength Welch has managed.
This fourth album perhaps marks her transition from an artist working through the universal concerns of youth such as identity, change, hope, and loss, to an artist who deals with the concerns of the next stages of life. Her songs have always seemed personal yet massive, elegant yet overpowering. This has not changed with High as Hope but rather been further perfected. Much of the same concerns of her music, many of the same questions, and much of the same essence is there. Entering a Florence and the Machine album, you know what you will get but you can never be quite sure how it will be delivered. As an artist, Welch seems determined to challenge herself but never strays far from the well from which her career and artistic identity sprang and there is nothing wrong with that as there is endless exploration in the ideas she deals with.
This seems, at times, a slightly stripped-down album. Not just for it comparatively smaller duration but also because it lacks the extreme heights and lows that has often been an integral part of her previous work. Songs such as the aptly titled ‘Cosmic Love’ from her debut album, the third album’s title track ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’, and Ceremonials’s ‘No Light, No Light’ sounded as massive, universal passion-filled tracks. Entries such as these are not to be found in the ten-track High as Hope which opts for a more restrained confidence. What she does with this album is a thorough success but perhaps the lack of the power of a song such as the ones present in previous albums leaves this album just short of the perfection it could be.
Words by Liam McNally