Album Review: Florence and the Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

An excellent addition to the many 2015 releases mentioned on this site, Florence & The Machine has reappeared from the shadows. I hadn’t heard their name in over three years, so I was excited to find their latest release available in iTunes. Just like their previous albums, the sound floats between pop, indie, jazz, and blues, a completely unique class of modern music. Shining in the spotlight once again, “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” is undeniably big, blue, and beautiful.

Having been introduced to “Ceremonials” by my wife a few years ago, I completely adore Florence Welch and her slightly gothic style. She is surrounded by many talented musicians on this record, including Isabella Summers on piano/synthesizers/vocals, Christopher Lloyd Hayden on the drums, and others. The collective effort of these individuals results in one of the most profound albums in today’s music.

florence and the machine live
Photo by Billboard

After one listen, I could not help but applaud the terrific performance by Will Gregory, the man in charge of the brass arrangement throughout “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful.” He adds so much feeling to this album, and without it, the listener would solely rely on Welch for their hearts to be broken and mended. The sassy brass section in “What Kind Of Man” only adds to the song’s foot-stomping, enough-is-enough attitude. It’s such a powerful song, it makes me feel hatred towards men. The brass continues into the next song, the title track “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful,” whose performance is described by Welch herself as how love feels to her. (source) It particularly rises in the song’s final moments, during the hauntingly beautiful bridge and final chorus section:

“So much time on the other side / Waiting for you to wake up / Maybe I’ll see you in another life / If this one wasn’t enough / So much time on the other side / How big, how blue, how beautiful” (source)

There are many moments spread throughout this album that bring a sense of nostalgia for a time when orchestral instruments were more present in music. The incorporation of classic instruments complements the modern sounds of electric guitar and synthesizers perfectly, and is reason alone to check out this album.

The remaining members in the band (Are they “The Machine” of the band?) are on par with the front-woman. From the get go, the listener can discern that Florence & The Machine has taken a much more rock-oriented approach to this album. The clean, acoustic strumming and dominant bass lines of “Ship to Wreck” are reminiscent of indie rock band Portugal. The Man and Imagine Dragons. Even with the simpler approach to the arrangements that is found in this album and popular music in general, each of them still find a way to stand out from others in the crowd. This is most apparent in the final track “Mother.” With the wavy guitar chords, groovy bass lines, and bluesy drum beat and guitar solo towards the middle, the listener is brought back to life in the album’s final moments. Reminiscent of an 80’s style of rock, I cannot help thinking of Phil Collins and Genesis in this song, except a much more indie (and perhaps just as poppy) version. The rest of the album features highlights from each member at particular moments, from the bass grove in “Queen of Peace,” the piano arrangement in “Delilah,” and catchy guitar riffs in “Long & Lost.”

As to be expected, Florence Welch steals the show on this album. She has a soulful, bluesy voice tinged with such pain and anguish. It’s such a great voice that I’d be in pain and anguish myself if I had to pick who topped my favorite female vocals list: hers or Sara Squadrani’s. But let’s save that for another day. It is ironic that the album’s cover is in black and wide, hiding her signature red hair, an allusion to the darker inspiration and material in this album. As with previous albums, “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” centers around love and escape. Although her prior albums’ lyrics deal more in fantasy and metaphor, the lyrics in this album are obvious in their reality. The gravity behind each lyric weighs down on the listener, shaking them to the core. The hurt Welch has experienced is felt with every word, with every rise and fall, with every soft whisper and sudden shout. An album reflecting on how to live and love in this world, Welch’s words crash down like wave after wave until the album’s end. Only then is the listener able to breathe again, reflecting on what just happened. It truly is an experience listening to her voice; I am left mesmerized as I contemplate my own life decisions after her albums.

florence and the machine
Photo by The Drum

There is one song in particular that stuck out to me. It was difficult to choose between the amazing material on this album, but “Various Storms & Saints” always strikes and paralyzes me. I feel the song is about an abusive relationship, and breaking free from it. The song is all Welch’s, with only a quiet guitar and piano in the background. I can picture the spotlight shining upon her on stage, she raising her hands in frustration and acceptance, especially during the song’s chorus:

“Some things you let go in order to live / While all around you, the buildings sway / You sing it out loud, “who made us this way?” / I know you’re bleeding, but you’ll be ok.” (source)

“How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” must be added to everyone’s iTunes library. With a more rock-oriented approach than their prior albums, I’d recommend this album to fans of indie and pop rock, especially bands and artists like Lorde, Adele, Of Monsters And Men, The XX, Muse, and even The Beatles. There is surely something in this album for fans of every genre of music. Please support Florence & The Machine as they tour across North America in support of this album. You can find them on their webpage, or by following them on Facebook and Twitter.

And to Florence: Thank you for creating such beautiful music. I hope my wife and I are able to see you live in San Diego soon!

florence coverPurchase “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” by Florence And The Machine by clicking the album cover above!

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