Album Review: Florence + The Machine – High As Hope

“You’ve Always Been My North Star”

Source: Florence + The Machine

Even before High As Hope was released, Florence + The Machine fans knew that it would be a turning point for their enchanting, beloved queen. The three singles that were delivered in the months previous to the album’s launch date led us into uncharted territory. Each song felt so independent from one another, no one knew what to expect when the record did debut. For most of us, High As Hope came as a complete and utter shock. It was unlike anything we had ever heard before. Florence had rewritten her story, simplified her fairy tale. She spoke from the heart and offered us a record that was truly unforgettable.

Like Florence’s previous records, High As Hope is a perfectly developed snapshot of a specific point in Florence’s life. Every album Florence creates is a beautifully drawn portrait of a ever-evolving artist. Each record acts as their own unique story. Although they are all stylistically and thematically different from one another, they all possess the power to inspire, to enlighten. Florence pours her whole being into these albums. They are written from instinct. They are sung with zeal. Florence brings them to life with every note she sings, it’s almost as if you can reach out and touch them.

If How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful made you want to twirl and dance in the dazzling sunshine, High As Hope makes you want to stay at home in your comfy, silky PJ’s and act like the world outside doesn’t exist. High As Hope is pure poetry. The album is so intimate, so personal, sometimes it feels as if you’re reading Florence’s own diary.

This time around, Florence’s melodies are scaled back and more reserved than the lavish orchestrations and remarkable intensity we’re used to. Like her prior albums, the songs on High As Hope vary in style. However, this time the differences between them are more subtle. The songs are not overly polished or regimented, they’re softer, organic. Florence’s lyrics are firmly planted in reality, showing no signs of fantasy, nor are they’re harboring any suffering ghosts. Elaborate and ostentatious melodies are no longer needed, because they are inconsequential to the strength and power of Florence’s forthright words and her sincere voice.

Before there was a consistent and relatively distinct separation between singer and song. Florence was always “real” with you, but she wasn’t necessarily honest. High As Hope completely obliterates that division and blends singer and song harmoniously into one. This album allows you to know Florence as she truly is, rather than just knowing who she is as an artist. It’s amazing how different this album is from Florence’s previous work, yet she continues to be true to herself and to her style. Even though High As Hope doesn’t pack as much punch as we’d like, it is still able to disrupt and devastate, to conjure a plethora of true, uninhibited emotion.

As you listen to the final orchestration on the album and Florence’s voice fades from view, you get the feeling that a chapter has been closed. Except, you know this is not an ending. This is just the beginning, the start of a whole new world for you and for Florence. Who knows what kind of melodies and mysteries the next album will hold?

Florence’s three previous albums were like an indescribable rush, an unstoppable hurricane of passion and emotion. Anger, sadness, loneliness, love. There was always and acute sense of longing in her music. It made her songs luxurious and dramatic. High As Hope carries all those same overwhelming emotions, but instead of feeling like you need to cure this need, this hunger inside of you, you feel calm and quiet. You feel at peace. High As Hope rejuvenates the soul. It heals your sorrows. It’s an inspirational journey that will change you, forever.

Photo Edit by: Kim the FanGirl

June acts as a prologue for High As Hope, it is a reflection of the person Florence used to be. The lyrics are sung softly, dream-like. It’s almost as if Florence is looking back. It’s almost as if she’s trying to speak to her younger self. Like a warning, over and over again she sings, “Hold on to each other,” {before it’s too late}. In June, Florence tries to navigate a relationship in the aftermath of tragedy. She recalls waking up and hearing the news about the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando. The devastation follows her everywhere she goes, she comes undone, but finds solace in her lover’s arms. She puts him on a pedestal, thinking he can protect her from the storm. “You’re so high, you’re so high, you have to be an angel. I’m so high, I’m so high, I can see an angel.” 

The track is, by far, the darkest on the album. The melody is heavy, weighted. The song transforms as it goes along. It beings slowly, Florence’s voice is the only thing you can hear. Then, the farther it goes, the more clouded it gets. More and more instruments come in – drums and strings and electric thingamajigs – until they block out any light coming through.

June has been eagerly embraced for its overall message and multiple references to the LGBT community, and has been officially deemed a pride anthem. June may feel somber at times, but you can not ignore its ability to soar and uplift.

Photo Edit by: Kim the FanGirl

No one can create such vulnerability and complexity within a song like Florence can. That’s why we love her so much. Every song is sung so ferociously, yet each lyric bleeds with love and is brought to life with cosmic passion. With Hunger, Florence has, yet again, cracked herself open and entrusted us with another courageous confession. This time, in a bright and bubbly tune. Don’t let this upbeat pop song fool you, though. Beneath its surface, Hunger is work of art. There are so many layers to dissect, to sort thorough. Her words leap straight for your heart. You can empathize with everything she says. The lyrics are so moving, it feels as if Florence is reaching out, holding your hand. She sees you. She understands you. Together you can dance your troubles away.

Florence has said the track is about looking for love where there is no love. It’s about recognizing your faults and learning from them. To love yourself is to find happiness [. . .] We have all felt this emptiness inside ourselves, a loneliness we want to defeat [. . .] In order to find peace we have to fix ourselves. We can’t expect some thing or someone to change us. Growth comes from within. It fills the empty spaces.

Photo Edit by: Kim the FanGirl

One of most addictive songs on the record is South London Forever. You won’t be able to get it off your mind. The track is certifiably dreamy with Florence’s falsetto harmonies taking center stage amidst escalating refrains and a vintage-inspired sound. Florence fondly reminisces about her youth, describing her misadventures in her home town. She sings of drunken nights and holding hands with strangers, climbing onto rooftops and forgotten names. “There can be nothing better than this.”

Although the track is lighthearted, Florence is ultimately questioning herself and her life choices. She wonders what happens when fame disappears. She’s seen all these unbelievable things and she’s traveled around the world. Along the way she has learned from her past mistakes, but can she go back to the way things were? “Oh, God! What do I know?”

Photo Edit by: Kim the FanGirl

When I think of this song, the phrase ‘epic masterpiece’ comes to mind. Florence is an unstoppable force in Big God. Her voice is sultry and rich, the melody is slow, almost Gothic. Florence’s articulation is spine-tingling. The video is also incredible, by the way, but I think you already know that. In Big God, Florence has hit her breaking point. Her lover’s self-obsession is ruining their relationship. He’s not going to change unless he looks outside himself. Florence is at war; she wants him, yet is crippled by his inattentiveness and ego. She tells him, “God is not in your phone.”

The song has become an overnight sensation and the praise is well deserved. Big God has altered our beliefs on what we thought we wanted from a Florence + The Machine song. It has expanded our universe, sweetened and satisfied our thirst for change. It’s a song we didn’t know we needed. It has proven that Florence Welch can do anything.

Photo Edit by: Kim the FanGirl

Sky Full of Song is the end of love, the end of an illusion. Florence is tired of pretending to love. She’s tired of flying alone, flying high. Florence begs to be brought down from the exhilaration she felt in the month of June. “Grab me by my ankles, I’ve been flying for too long. I couldn’t hide from the thunder in a sky full of song.” Florence has found freedom in the thrill of touring, but despite being surrounded by choirs and hymns, she couldn’t hide from the pain.

Sky Full Of Song is so real and raw. The lyrics are like a powerful grip on your heart. You will never be the same again. Every time you hear it. Every time it circles around in your head you get this feeling, this tender blend of melancholy and regret. It completely overwhelms you. It sets a mood.” The melody is haunting, yet the arrangement is so simple. Florence has made it by hand, crafting it by instinct alone. You can hear her bevy of bracelets as they crash and jingle. You can a hear a single set of stings, a guitar being played. It’s so straightforward. It’s so effortless. Florence’s daring voice is the only thing that is able to break out and break free.

Photo Edit by: Kim the FanGirl

Written as an ode to Florence’s younger sister, Grace is a heart-wrenching and heartwarming depiction of past mistakes and the need for forgiveness. Among acid mermaids and melting walls, the song details the consequences of strange behaviors and disastrous eighteenth birthday parties. As she looks back and lists her regrets, Florence recognizes how much her cherished sibling means to her. Their relationship is the only thing keeping her head above water.

Grace is elegant, but Florence’s pleas are fiery. As the chorus swells, delicate harmonies take over and Florence cries out her sister’s name over and over again. She wishes and she hopes. Florence aspires to become a person her sister can rely on.

Photo Edit by: Kim the FanGirl

Despite being expressly written (in part) about legend, Patti Smith, the entire FATM fan-base has agreed that if we were to write a song about Florence Welch it would sound something like this. “Oh, [Florence], you’ve always been my north star, and I have to tell you something, I’m still afraid of the dark. But you take my hand in your hand, from you the flowers grow, and do you understand with every seed you sow you make this cold world beautiful.”

Florence illustrates how she has found inspiration and harmony through music, books, and art. Her creativity gives her reason and strength in an otherwise monochromatic and masculine world. Florence demonstrates this by creating thrilling shifts in tone. When she praises Patricia, her voice becomes softer, gentler. Her words echo in a romantic reverie as she pays homage to her idol. It is a notable juxtaposition to the medial part of the song when the tempo increases and Florence swiftly and sharply chides the toxic man in her life. “Well, you’re a real man and you do what you can. You only take as much as you can grab with two hands. With your big heart, you praise god above, but how’s that working out for you, honey? Do you feel loved?” The track is an instant classic, one that you’re sure to find yourself singing, even in your sleep.

Photo Edit by: Kim the FanGirl

100 Years is that fierce, feminist anthem we’ve all been craving during these unstable and uncertain times. It makes you want to speak out, stand up, and say, “No matter what they say or what they do, they will not bring us down.” With a stockpile of political undertones, the track makes its message clear: Find love in darkness. Shine your light. Hold on to love. Don’t get distracted by the hate they give. Love more. Love better. We must resist.

100 Years may not be as dynamic or as glossy as its live counterpart, but the tune still manages to reel you in and keep you bewitched by its many charms. It will have your hands clapping and feet stomping in no time. Love will always conquer fear in this irresistible track.

Photo Edit by: Kim the FanGirl

If you’ve already listened to High As Hope, you know what I’m going to say. The End of Love is hands down the best track on the record. No, scratch that. The End of Love is definitely in the Top 5 of Florence’s most beautiful songs, EVER. And to think, it’s all because of that chorus. That chorus! Gosh, just thinking about it gives me goosebumps. When I first heard the song, Florence completely rendered me speechless. I had to hold on to something, my knees buckled. I thought I was going to fall over. I couldn’t get over it, I still can’t. The End of Love is so majestic, it creates an indescribable impact on the soul. Florence’s intense and layered harmonies are the standout. They’ll absolutely take your breath away. Raise the volume all the way up and you can feel it in your bones.

The ballad is a nostalgic track as Florence details her tense family history; a vow to fix, but not “wash away” the tribulations of their past. In the instrumental introduction, this theme is reinforced by the off-key, flickering instruments slowly coming together to frame a euphonious orchestration. “We were a family pulled from the flood. You tore the floorboards up and let the river rush in, not wash away, wash away.”

The End of Love signals the moment Florence finally finds her footing and plants her feet into the plush grass. She is no longer flying high like she was in June, or asking to be brought down like in Sky Full of Song. She is falling, soon she will be grounded.

Photo Edit by: Kim the FanGirl

No Choir is the most surprising track on the album and the perfect end to High As Hope. The song is completely unexpected, so don’t get too upset if you don’t take to it right away. It takes several tries to truly understand Florence’s intention, but I assure you, you will fall in love with this song.

No Choir is distinctly different from the album’s opening track. No Choir and June act like bookends, opposites in almost every way. June is heavy and starless as Florence describes choirs singing in the streets, and the euphoria she finds in her sweetheart’s embrace. Later there is No Choir; Florence’s voice is clean and clear. The mood is beguiling and brightened by the confidence Florence creates in the wavy melody.

Florence breaks the fourth wall in a way, acknowledging that her performances are used like an escape hatch, a brief moment of respite from her loneliness and fear. She understands that her career could eventually dwindle, but finds comfort in the fact that, for a moment, it was grand and great.

The chorus can be interpreted in a variety of ways, but two theories tend to stick out in my mind. Number one, Florence is pessimistically prophesying that as she gets older, the fantastical hymns she is known for will be forgotten. Or, it could mean this: we all know the best love songs are written with a broken heart. The line,“There will be no grand choirs to sing, no chorus will come in, no ballad will be written, it will be entirely forgotten,” seems to indicate what Florence has been trying to tell us with this album. Happiness is in a good cup of tea and a quiet room. Happiness is in the little moments life creates. Throughout the album we see Florence begin to recognize that love no longer needs to be excessively dramatic or harmful to the heart and mind. Florence’s journey has led her to a place where love is quiet and kind, it is not a ballad, opulent or otherwise. No Choir is the final chapter of the story, a culmination of sweet songs and life’s lessons.

Album Rating: A-

What did you think of High As Hope? Which song from the album was your favorite, which lyric? Do you like this new Flo era? Which video from High As Hope do you like best, so far? Tell me in the comments!

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