FLORENCE + THE MA­CHINE

Set­tling down for her fourth LP, Florence Welch finds a new still­ness and strength.

Q (UK) - - Q Review -

Florence Welch’s lat­est LP re­veals her true self.

There is some­thing new to her voice – it never gets lost on the moors, in­stead find­ing a new mus­cu­lar­ity to haul it­self back in.

FLORENCE + THE MA­CHINE HIGH AS HOPE VIR­GIN EMI, OUT NOW

There al­ways seemed some­thing un­set­tled at the heart of Florence Welch and her mu­sic. Each song seemed to bring a newly-height­ened state – fevered, white-knuck­led, some­thing manic in the telling. It was there in the ur­gency of her melodies, the scurry of her rhythms, the the­atre of her lyrics, and the self­de­scribed “Lady of Shalott meets Ophe­lia” aes­thetic of her stage out­fits. Most of all though, it lay in a voice that seemed con­stantly to thrash against its own cap­tiv­ity as if it had rushed in the win­dow one evening then gone flap­ping around ev­ery cor­ner of the room. There can, of course, be some­thing com­pelling about life lived in high peril. It was hard to re­sist the fu­ri­ous joy of 2009’ s Dog Days Are Over, for in­stance, or her wind tun­nel cover of Candi Sta­ton’s You Got The Love, but as her ca­reer has rolled on, through 2011’ s Cer­e­mo­ni­als and 2015’ s How Big, How Blue, How Beau­ti­ful, the heave and pitch has, at times, felt a lit­tle drain­ing. Her fourth al­bum of­fers a more set­tled Welch. Now 31, she de­clares her­self done with all the hul­la­baloo and the show­biz par­ties and rested, re­stored and ready to re­turn to the plea­sure of the work. For the first time also, she’s taken on some of the pro­duc­tion work along­side form­ing an im­pec­ca­ble gang of con­trib­u­tors: won­der-sax­o­phon­ist Ka­masi Wash­ing­ton and 2017 Mer­cury Prize win­ner Sam­pha, Jamie xx, To­bias Jesso Jr, Thomas Bartlett and Mi­ike Snow’s An­drew Wy­att, to lead the songs in a va­ri­ety of new mu­si­cal di­rec­tions. Ac­cord­ingly, High As Hope opens on a note of ar­rest­ing soft­ness, with the drowsy love story of June, and re­turns of­ten to a gen­tler tone. The warm and sorry piano-led sim­plic­ity of Grace, for in­stance, in which even the sud­den bloom of the cho­rus is never al­lowed to dom­i­nate or the still and com­posed No Choir. There are points of high drama – Hunger opens with the ag­i­ta­tion of, “At 17, I started to starve my­self” be­fore strid­ing off into fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory of tu­mul­tuous pop and Ste­vie Nicks vo­cals. But there is some­thing new to her voice here – it never gets lost on the moors, in­stead find­ing a new mus­cu­lar­ity to haul it­self back in. Pa­tri­cia, a trib­ute to Patti Smith, feels more like the Welch of old, both in the fever pitch of her voice and in the in­cli­na­tion to reach out to an­other artist as a touch­stone. Welch is bet­ter when she keeps to her­self though, when she seems to con­sider the con­tours of her own tal­ent, as on al­bum show­stop­per Big God with its gospelled, shud­der­ing depth, pulsed strings and throaty growl. Rather than any fraught skit­tish­ness, there is some­thing sturdy, slow and steady about it, an air of a stun­ning, deep soul clas­sic. It is, per­haps, Sky Full Of Song that proves most il­lu­mi­nat­ing, though. Be­gin­ning a cap­pella, be­fore build­ing with sub­tle in­stru­men­ta­tion and a dis­tant choir it never once feels over­dressed. It is, it seems, her ac­count of the last near-decade of suc­cess, of ex­haus­tion, the de­sire to stop and the im­pulse to carry on play­ing. Mu­si­cally, lyri­cally and emo­tion­ally, it sounds like a beau­ti­ful coun­ter­part to Dog Days Are Over – all of that run­ning and hid­ing, that great gal­lop of ac­tiv­ity hav­ing taken its toll, but nev­er­the­less led her here, to a new point of still­ness. It’s an al­bum that makes you feel the real Florence Welch is only be­gin­ning. ★★★★ LAURA BAR­TON Lis­ten To: Big God | Sky Full Of Song | Grace

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