Florence and the Machine’s new album “High as Hope” is at times both exquisitely beautiful and heart-wrenchingly sad. It is the echo of a long-ago party in another room, and the most intimate late night hotel conversations. We feel Florence is whispering to us and revealing something to us, the listeners, and us alone.
There are very few songs on this album that are quintessentially “classic” Florence, where she instead opts for a more traditional singer-songwriter feel. It is reminiscent of Joni Mitchell or similarly candid writer, giving us glimpses into the darkest parts of their soul in an almost flippant and honest tone. While she has done this before, her music has always been cinematic and huge. This stripped down series is almost startling in contrast. That’s not to say this album isn’t cinematic – it most certainly is. But it has moved from epic sweeping scenes to soft and dramatic ones. We finally see our heroine up close instead of striding on some unknowable set full of other characters. In “No Light, No Light” she mentioned being lost in a crowd. With this album, she is no longer in a crowd. We can single her out and understand what she’s thinking. We see her for all her beauty, and all her vice.
With lyrics more like prose than poetry, it’s a big album to chew on and swallow, but it is absolutely worth the listen. One also has to focus on the brilliance of the sound production to tell the story – the sparse instrumental accompaniment and harmonies that we are so used to from Florence serve this album particularly well. Her vocals are allowed to shine and bring a depth to every word that sometimes gets lost in her older work.
My particular favorites are “Big God”, which sounds as though we are being swallowed underwater for a majority of the song and seems to be about being in love with someone who is ghosting her, “100 Years” which marches on almost determinedly, and “No Choir” which is almost sweet after the sadness we have witnessed for the majority of the album.
When I say favorite though, I merely mean the tracks I have played over and over since listening to the album this morning. But every track is worth the listen, (and crying over while in traffic, as I did to the confusion of my neighboring cars.) I don’t believe there is a weak song on this album at all.
Even a track I don’t listen to as fondly like “South London Forever” haunts me with its chorus of “everything I ever did was just a way to scream your name.” And that song too, begins to show the tilt in her worldview, as the alcohol takes over. “There can be nothing better than this” in an almost regretful and foreshadowing tone. It’s the voice of someone looking back on themselves and seeing the downfall before it happened.
So much of this album is an apology, a look back, regret and also acceptance of the past, and told through the lyrics so well. “Grace” is poignant and sad, a tribute to a younger sister, an admittance of a guilty conscience. “And you, you were the one I treated the worst only because you loved me the best.” “Patricia”, “I drink coffee and I think of you often.” “The End Of Love” “We we’re family torn from a flood… I threw myself from the balcony like my grandmother so many years before me.” “Sky Full of Song”, “And I can feel your anger from across the sea.” “June” “I’m so high I can see an angel.” And “Hunger” which opens to the lines of: “when I was 17 I started to starve myself. I thought that love was a kind of emptiness. And at least then I understood the hunger I felt and I didn’t have to call it loneliness.”
Take an hour, listen to this album. Some of the tracks are surprisingly short, like little vignettes into her life. It’s all worth it. But be prepared to cry, or at least feel.
I listened to this album on Spotify!
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