Music & Magic
If Florence + The Machine made it their mission to possess our minds and souls with How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, I have to say, job well done. Almost three years after its release and it still has the ability to shake me to my core. It is, without a doubt, my favorite album. Ever. Even now, as I listen to my beloved songbird’s fervent hymns, they have the ability to set my heart alight. Over the years, I’ve found myself going back to the record again and again, never tiring of its melodies, never tiring of its message. These are songs that are constantly running through my mind. They won’t let me go, our beautiful fairy queen has made sure of that. She has sculpted an unrivaled collection of thrilling anthems and loving ballads, melodic strains that have been magnified by truth and love.
Florence has always made music you can feel. Her harmonies live in your blood. Her words are tattooed on your skin. Florence’s music provokes such overpowering reactions it feels like a living, breathing thing. It is a force separate from yourself – made of darkness and light – controlled by a lion-hearted girl. Florence puts her entire self into every note she sings. Her lyrics are heartfelt, poetic. Her story is yours.
The How Beautiful era has gone by in the blink of an eye, but has made an everlasting impression and has even made some dreams come true.
Yes, it has finally happened. I can officially say I have seen Florence + The Machine perform live on tour not once, but TWICE.
A Touch of Pixie Dust
It seemed like every time Florence was on tour she either wasn’t set to perform in Chicago or she was playing a festival where tickets tended to sell out rather quickly. Seeing Florence live was becoming a bucket-list item for me. I didn’t know if it was ever going to happen. So when I saw Florence + The Machine were scheduled to play Red Rocks – another item on my bucket-list – in August of 2015 for Part 1 of the How Beautiful tour, I knew it was a sign. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I wasn’t going to pass it up. I purchased my tickets and drove over one thousand miles to Morrison, Colorado.
“Every City Was a Gift and Every Skyline Was Like a Kiss Upon the Lips”
The night of the concert arrived and I still couldn’t believe I was going. Even as I was in the amphitheater, actually seeing Florence in person, I couldn’t believe I was there. Now, almost three years later and I can’t believe it happened. It was a moment in time that I want to capture and relive again and again. Because, let me tell you, nothing can compare to the feeling of singing Dog Days Are Over with nine thousand other people.
The whole experience was like a surreal mix of fact and fantasy. First of all, because Red Rocks is unlike any other venue in the world. You’re surrounded by these majestic rock formations and these too-green mountain views, the clouds soaring overhead are creating their own cities and landscapes. It was absolutely magnificent.
She appeared like an apparition, dressed in white and hair wild in the wind, a goddess not of this world or realm. It was completely unreal watching Florence take the stage. To see those perfect pirouettes in person. To hear that voice and those songs. It was otherworldly.
At one point, as she sang How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, the light hit her just right. It appeared as if she were made entirely of flame. At first I thought I was hallucinating from the haze of medically prescribed “smoke” that had been drifting around since the beginning. It was Colorado, after all. Except, it was real, and it was a sight I will never forget. I admit, I cried. It was so shocking and stunning. And when she sang Third Eye, there are no words to describe how I felt in that moment.
When the concert was over, all I could think was, “More. I want more.”
“We’ve Opened Our Eyes and Now It’s Changing the View”
As luck would have it, the following June I had the honor of seeing Florence + The Machine live for the second time within a year. This time I got to see her close to home and it was just as spectacular. Florence was jumping, running across the stage for two hours straight, and not once did she run out of breath or energy. During Rabbit Heart she ran through the audience, near where I was sitting. She was so close! She dazzled me. She amazed me.
The atmosphere she creates during her concerts is utterly unique. There isn’t another experience I can compare it to. Like Florence herself, her concerts are magical. She is an enchantress. She is a fairy, strong and winsome, sprinkling us with pixie dust so, maybe, we can fly too.
On February 9th, 2015 the How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful era began with the release of the How Beautiful music video. Even though it was just a short glimpse into a world we would get to know very well, the Florence + The Machine fanatics were awestruck by the charm and grandeur of the new age. A few days later, the first single off the record, What Kind of Man, debuted. As the legend goes, every FATM fans’ heart grew three sizes that day. The love they had for Florence would forever be infinite. Six and a half bold, cinematic music videos, one short film, and countless incredible, live performances later, and these eleven everlasting songs still have the power to inspire.
Ship to Wreck
She is the storm, split between sky and ground. She is chaos unleashed; the manifestation of that feeling familiar. Desperation. Fear. Regret. She is a woman torn in two, waking up from the haze of a not quite dream. He is her lover. He is friend and foe, her darkness and her light. Can she push away the demon inside and give in to love? Or will she destroy everything she has built, everything she has fought for?
“Oh, my love, remind me. What was it that I did? Did I drink too much? Am I losing touch? Did I build this ship to wreck?”
Ship to Wreck is an aggressive introduction to the record. It immediately pulls you in with a surprising explosion of sound. It’s a shock to your system. It’s obvious Florence has thrown you in the deep end and she has no intention of rescuing you from it. Each verse is seething with seduction. The bridge is unyielding, entirely regretful. The chorus is an anguished plea, a woman howling for help and understanding. It’s a soulful track with the power to destroy. You will always, always, find yourself singing along no matter what.
What Kind of Man
There is a storm on the horizon. They watch as lighting threatens the sky. She passes a breath between them, but it is trapped between two lungs. What kind of man loves like this? What kind of man watches as love crashes and burns, watches as it is torn from his grasp? It is tearing her apart. The pressures of life and love are tearing them apart. “Oh, mercy,” she implores. How does he do it? She thinks she’s through it, but then she’s back against the wall. What kind of man loves like this?
“To let me dangle at a cruel angle. Oh, my feet don’t touch the floor. Sometimes you’re half in and then you’re half out, but you never close the door.”
What Kind of Man is a hair flipping, head shaking, honest-to-goodness rock anthem. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever heard from our melody-spinning songstress before. The gritty, celestial prelude lulls you into a false sense of security, keeping you cuddled by arms of familiarity. And then, BAM!, an overwhelming storm of ferocious rhythm. The guitar and drum laden melody are savage, intense. A declaration of anger. A proclamation of strength. The chorus is thunderous, visceral and completely stunning. Florence embodies a deceived soul vibrantly, calling out her lovelorn frustrations with fierce articulation. She chants over and over again, “What kind of man loves like this? What kind of man?” Trapped in a desperate and destructive love, she finds her undoing and her salvation.
How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
Can you hear them? Can you see them? The birds, sitting in the trees, singing songs of love. She is there among them with eyes of full of wonder. Can you see her? Can you hear her? She is broken, a woman divided, struggling with her past, fighting for her future. Only when she learns to love herself, to lose herself, will she ever find happiness in this big, blue, beautiful world.
“Between a crucifix and the Hollywood sign we decided to get hurt. Now there’s a few things we have to burn. Set our hearts ablaze.”
This is a song that you really need to experience outside in the bright sunshine on a warm-weathered day. You hear it and it feels as if you can control all the elements around you, that you could be the conductor of the sun and moon, and sky. If you haven’t twirled in the soft, green grass while doing a Flo-esque interpretive dance, you are missing out. It enhances the experience completely. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is the heart and soul of the album. It all revolves around this song. Florence’s layered vocals are reminiscent of an angelic chorus or a mystical all-girl rock group. The cluster of trumpets that roar as the track fades are awe-inspiring. This song is life-changing.
Queen of Peace/ Long & Lost
Waves crash against the emerald isle as a family fights for what they think is right. She watches helpless, powerless to stop them from bruising her heart’s desire. She does her best to please, but it’s no use. They say he is unworthy of her love. So, she lies and lovers hide until secrets are uncovered. They force her to choose sides, to put her loyalty over the hunger she has for another. She is so long and lost without his love. She falls to her knees, praying love will return.
“Like the stars chase the sun over the glowing hill, I will conquer. Blood is running deep. Some things never sleep.”
Whenever I hear the opening melody of Queen of Peace it feels as if I’ve entered another realm. It’s as if I’ve set foot in some medieval epic, a perfect blend of fantasy and reality. Florence has authored this story-song with such detail it easily brings your imagination to life. The track burns with an energy so fierce it absorbs any sorrow around it. There is only this song in that moment, everything else fades away.
“Is it too late to come on home? Are all those bridges now old stone? Is it too late to come on home? Can the city forgive? I hear its sad song.”
A sultry guitar riff and Florence’s breathless croon make the melancholy Long & Lost an effortless hit. Florence’s voice gently reaches out and grabs you by the lapels. Her longing and suffering become yours. Together you move and sway, tears in your eyes. Florence holds you in her arms as the smokey strains give way. Long & Lost is a harmonious and touching lament.
Various Storms & Saints
“You’ll find a rooftop to sing from or find a hallway to dance. You don’t need no edge to cling from. Your heart is there. It’s in your hands. I know it seems like forever. I know it seems like an age. But one day this will be over. I swear it’s not so far away.”
Various Storms and Saints is a masterpiece, end of story. It has this rare quality, something that can not be explained. It’s almost as if it were a memory from a dream. It’s a song only Florence is capable of writing. She has this knack for fashioning songs that are unbearably heartbreaking, yet have the ability to uplift, to reveal. Her voice is so strong, so clear. The song builds and builds until it just drifts off into the distance. Various Storms & Saints feels too personal, like it was a conversation we weren’t supposed to hear. Florence’s vulnerability is a gift. We have to keep it safe.
She walks barefoot down a dark, empty hall, followed by a ghost with no name. It whispers in her ear, “Love yourself. Forgive yourself,” but she will not listen. She has only herself to blame. She has betrayed the one she loves and the devil holds on so tight. It will never let go. Yet, she longs to be free. She searches for a way out, Delilah by her side. Still, the ghost haunts her. The demons ready for battle. She walks barefoot down a dark, empty hall, following a ghost with no name. It shouts, “It’s not you! I’m not you!” The chains now broken, finally she understands. Love yourself. Forgive yourself for the mistakes you have made. Reveal yourself. You are going to be free and you are going to be fine.
“Too fast for freedom. Sometimes it all falls down. These chains never leave me. I keep dragging them around.”
Florence’s falsetto comes out to play in this standout track. With its edgy, rocky style and shadowy undertones, Florence has made sure you will never forget Delilah. The dark lyrics dance delightfully with the song’s luminous melody. Every inch of this song prompts you to move, to shimmy and shake, to dance with Delilah. You can’t stop it, the sensation that moves through you as you respond to Florence’s call. The song is electric. It only gets better with age.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to prove. You turn to salt as I turned around to look at you. Old friends have said it. The books I’ve read say it’s the thing to do. But it’s hard to see it when you’re in it, ’cause I went blind for you.”
Caught is the ideal song for that lovely, lazy Sunday afternoon. It’s intimate, as if you were up close and personal with Florence herself. It’s like she’s sitting right next to you, singing in your ear; as if she’s smoothly confessing all her deepest secrets. It’s the most subdued on the album, but that catchy chorus makes up for what power it lacks.
She is reborn, made of fire and starlight. She is whole, one mind and one soul. As she walks away she leaves the things she has loved and the things she has lost behind her. Look how beautiful she is as the light shines down upon her. Yet, she must be wary. The path she follows is fraught with danger. It is a journey of self-discovery, one that must be fought with sword in hand. The ghosts haunt her and the goblins shriek in her ear, but she mustn’t obey. She is stronger than them. She is made of sunshine and star-dust. She is FLORENCE + THE MACHINE.
“Hey, look up! You don’t have to be a ghost, here amongst the living. You are flesh and blood. You deserve to be loved. And you deserve what you are given.”
Third Eye is like an exorcism, in the way that it feels as if your soul is being ripped away from your body. You can’t fight it. It has complete control over you. It’s the kind of song that you play at full volume, the kind of song you sing at the top of your lungs. I can honestly say that it is my favorite on the record. There’s this inexplicable connection I have with this song unlike any other. I get lost in it.
Hear the heavy beat of her heart barely breathing from behind. Watch as the rain pours down upon lovers in the haunted ruins of a former home. He is bruised and broken, fighting the tide, cradling his soul in his arms. What kind of man loves like this, with her back against the wall. She is soaked skin and heart-sick, damned to swim through an endless sea until she can find the shore. Destined to dream. Destined to remember. Followed by ghosts, tormented by scenes from her past, present, and future. Doing such damage, yet she crawls back for more. Fingertips pull breath and press on tear-stained lips; life brought back to taste and devour. One more kiss. One more goodbye. She is soaked skin and heart-sick, walking past demons and darkness. Giving in, but never giving up. She is forging a new path. Let loss reveal it. (Source)
“And I’m learning, so I’m leaving. And even though I’m grieving, I’m trying to find the meaning. Let loss reveal it.”
St. Jude makes me think of a rainfall. It surrounds you, sinks into your skin. It’s soft and simple, but is able to extract the deepest of emotions. Florence’s voice is unclouded and completely defenseless. It’s almost as if she is singing you a lullaby, a story about growth and acceptance told in a poetic, dreamlike reverie. The heartbeat lying beneath the melody is strong but does not overwhelm. It soothes us. It reminds us that we are human and that we all just want to be loved.
“Oh, lord, won’t you leave me, leave me on my knees. ‘Cause I belong to the ground now and it belongs to me. Oh, lord won’t you leave me, leave me just like this. ‘Cause I belong to the ground now. I want no more than this.”
Florence calls out to a higher power in Mother. With its tropical vibes and woven electric guitar strains, Mother is the cherry on top of the How Beautiful sundae. It is a spiritual experience. It is epic. It is Florence’s moment to say, “I’ve been broken and I’ve been beat, but everything is going to be okay. I’ve survived. I have conquered.” It’s kind of sad we never got to see a video for this song. Can you imagine it? Florence, our long-legged temptress, standing on a white sand beach, white dress flowing, her long, red locks curling in the wind, her voice carried off into the sunrise. It would be magic.
Look to the Future
When rumors started slowly circulating in spring of ’17 that Florence was working on a new album, there were those who repeatedly expressed their concern that it was far too soon for any type of new music from the group. True, the time between How Beautiful and now seems to have gone by in an instant. However, it is only because How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful has consistently proved its vitality. For me, the record boasts a greater longevity than its predecessors, because it has the ability to sustain, restore, and revive without fail. It is timeless.
It was only when the rumors started to become more concrete that it all started to feel real. Music executives made sly comments, imminent festival performances were announced and, most recently, auditions were held in California for a brand new music video. Now it’s like, “Oh, this is happening. We’re going to get a new album quite soon, actually.” Like, really soon.
[INSERT FANGIRL HOWL OF EXCITEMENT HERE]
So, what can we expect from album four? Considering our songbird loves to surprise, I think it’s impossible to speculate about substance and style.
I did see a rather interesting theory, though. Each FATM album was compared to one of the four elements of ancient philosophy and astrology.
Lungs = Earth. Ceremonials = Water. HB HB HB = Sky.
Which means, this upcoming album will be passionate and fierce, incredibly intense and absolutely otherworldly. It will be FIRE.
“Songs can be incredibly prophetic, like subconscious warnings or messages to myself, but I often don’t know what I’m trying to say till years later. Or a prediction comes true and I couldn’t do anything to stop it, so it seems like a kind of useless magic.” (Source)
This July, Florence Welch will also gift us with something else that’s new. She will publish her first collection of lyrics, poetry, and illustrations. Useless Magic is available for pre-order now and is promised to be an absolutely stunning anthology.
The wait for both book and album, of course, will be absolute agony. Time has already seemed to slow from the anticipation of what’s to come. I’ve been crawling out of my skin, hoping, waiting, wishing to get some sort of unequivocal hint that we won’t have to hold on much longer for news. I’ve found myself becoming increasingly dependent on fan sites and social media accounts. I’ve been constantly checking for clues, clips, or snippets. It has been driving me insane.
Thankfully, I know I’m not alone. I know you’re right there with me hoping, waiting, and wishing. We have each other. We’ll get through this difficult time together.
Please, Florence! Put us out of our misery!
Which song from How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is your favorite? Do you have a favorite video? A favorite lyric? Are you excited for the new album? Tell me in the comments!