Review: Florence and the Machine, ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’

Florence Welch does not shy away from mountains on her newest release How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. On the third album from her band Florence and the Machine, she presents an offering of grandiose proportions. For what is essentially a break-up album, there is an expansiveness that makes you wonder if the songstress truly thinks hers is the first heart to be broken. Florence cry’s herself a river so big it becomes an ocean, and then sails out into its stormy depths.

Nautical themes abound right from opening track Ship to Wreck through to Queen of Peace, where Florence describes herself as “dissolving like the setting sun, like a boat into oblivion.” Each song crashes like a furious wave into the next, making the album seem unanchored and flailing with all it’s emotional discord. There is so much tragedy (sleeping pills, broken limbs, shark attack, patron saints), that as a listener, it’s like being thrashed on the shore unable to catch your breath.

Lighter moments like Kiss with a Fist or Dog Days are Over, that propelled the band to fame with their debut release Lungs in 2009, are now blips on the distant horizon. The closest HBHBHB comes to letting its hair down is the self affirming track Delilah, with its pulsing drum beat and an infectious melody. Along with second single What Kind of Man, this is a definite highlight.

Throughout the album, we are reminded that Welch has a voice that can shake walls; but this doesn’t means she needs to try to bring the house down every time. Some of her finest moments are those of restraint, like the softer Various Storms and Saints. Majority of the album is spent building towards moments where she can unleash her wailing vibrato and feels wholly overstated. The arrangements on the album are rich and orchestral, but many of the subtle nuances are lost beneath the blanketing vocals.

As someone once described it to me, Florence and the Machine make music that people’s mums should listen to. HBHBHB has a polished and digestible finish that teeters on the fringe of modern pop/rock with just the right amount of edginess. An album that will fill stadiums with its towering sounds, and audiences whose own heartache seems insignificant in comparison.

For those wanting to take part, Florence and the Machine headline Splendour in the Grass in July, with two sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne. You can check out our full list of Splendour sideshows, ticketing details and more here.