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Album Review: Florence & The Machine – High As Hope

3 min read
Photo: Vincent Haycock/Toast

It has been almost 10 year since Florence & The Machine’s debut album Lungs was released. It was a scattered collection of songs direct from the mind of Florence Welch that represented all she could not say out loud. Fast-forward to 2018 and Florence has headlined the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, released her first novel and now with fourth record; High As Hope, she has her finest album to date.

 First single Hunger takes some of the hardest subjects Florence has endured and turned them into a full-bodied piece of joy. Speaking of the song at the Joiner’s Arms in her native Camberwell, Welch spoke of how it almost didn’t make it to the album because it was so personal. Whilst there is solitude in sadness, the line “we all have a hunger” highlights how everyone can find happiness in being linked through sadness.

The first time I heard South London Forever; was hungover on the N109 home through the very place named in the title, the sun warmed my skin and this song warmed my soul. There has and always will be a special glow felt walking through the streets of Camberwell, knowing Florence spent her formative years on the same roads and in the same bars. Sometimes it’s good to be in love with a place & the memories of it rather than a person, and South London Forever is as beautiful as the lady singing about it.

Grace is a sad tear-jerker of a tune. Documenting the years in which Florence spiralled a bit out of control to the detriment of the relationship with her younger sister; after whom the track is named. The strained love in Florence’s voice is powered by the realisation that it is possible to hurt those closest to us the most. Again, knowing the history that inspired this track it’s clear how difficult this will have been for Florence to write, but again she has taken an unrelenting pain and created something almost too empowering for words.

Some reviews have been wondering where the oomph in Florence & The Machine has gone over the years, but you only need listen to 100 Years to be reassured it never left. The powering percussion on Lungs is back with a mighty vengeance, but in Florence’s now emotionally mature hands it reaches higher than ever before. It’s punchy and provocative, using The Machine for all their might to drive an ethereal summon to arms.

The extension and range in Florence’s voice throughout The End Of Love is enough to make even the hardest of souls well up a little. Even in her pain, Florence maintains a god-like composure with the accompanying organs giving it a distinctive hymn-like feel. No one ever feels the same pain as somebody else, but the intensive calm of this track has me with my arms outstretched wanting to take Florence in my arms and give her the reassurance she has been seeking in those who will not return it.

This is the most pained record Florence has created, so she can readily be forgiven for it not being as immediate or pulsating as her earlier efforts. This is a woman who has gone through a lot in her time; much of it in the public eye despite being a very anxious & private person, it feels as though Florence has begun to let people into her true feelings rather than hiding behind grand theatrics & choral arrangements.

There is nothing I really love in this world more than the band Florence & The Machine, and High As Hope is undoubtedly a very personal achievement. It’s a record made by Florence, for Florence first and foremost – and seeing her put herself first & enjoying the process is akin to the freedom she probably now feels.