The socks I wore while listening to Ceremonials for the first time are still missing so I was sure to go bare feet lest another pair get knocked off while listening to How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, the third studio album from Florence + The Machine.
The album has a chaotic calm to it. Where there once stood booming walls of sound and epic anthems with massive choruses now sit quaint, quiet pieces. Songs that sit on this side of menacing that evoke the chaos in the lyrics rather than the music.
The record is mourning the loss of a relationship at the hands of changing times, and with mourning comes the realization of good and bad aspects of it.
The first single, What Kind Of Man, is the most charged track, lead by crunching guitars and Florence demanding “what kind of man loves like this.” The song helps paint only part of the person the record focuses on. An ex. A man she, at one point, calls an “unconscious solopsist” – someone who believes himself to be the only thing that can exist – on Caught.
She places focus on herself too, on accepting change without having to forget what happened. Underneath the strings of Various Storms & Saints, she acknowledges the failed relationship as something to learn from. “Don’t make the mountain your enemy/Get out/Get up there instead,” and on Mother she is conceding to her own emotions, wanting her desires to stop being desires, “Can you protect me from what I want?/The love that I let in left me so lost.”
It’s an introspective album that has Florence laying her emotions and thoughts out often using biblical metaphors to help tell the story. Her voice is stronger than ever, and those pipes were already legendary. And she’s presented a new side of her music to offset the layered sound of the first two records.
Where Lungs and Ceremonials were records known for their big layers and full sounds, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful takes the opposite approach and oddly, is the tiring one.
Beyond the album’s themes are songs that are challenging to grasp onto. The first two tracks show high promise for an collection that never delivers to match those expectations again until the final track, Mother. In between are songs that waver in and out of consciousness, with varying degrees of forgettability. Some may stick, such as the title track, the hushed St. Jude, or the familiar Caught, but most unlikely will.
So, I could have left my socks on and they’d still be there now. Not because the record is a poor one, just unexpected. After repeated listens, I’ve concluded it has a time and a place, not the same go-to nature that Ceremonials still has (it’s my default when I’m torn for what to listen to). It better serves as a soundtrack to sit back to and reflect with a glass of wine.
1. Ship To Wreck
2. What Kind Of Man
3. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
4. Queen Of Peace
5. Various Storms & Saints
7. Long & Lost
9. Third Eye
10. St. Jude