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