Posted on June 1st, 2015 (2:00 pm) by Aaron Tremper

With major inspirations including the likes of Stevie Nicks, Kate Bush, and Grace Slick, the self-professed "broken-hearted chanteuse," Florence Welch, is only the newest addition to rock’s lengthy history of "witchy" leading ladies. Prior to joining up with Isabella Summers, aka "Isabella Machine," Welch caught the attention of promoter Mairead Nash in, of all places, the bathroom of London’s Soho Revue Bar. Nash, impressed by Welch’s drunken rendition of Etta James’s “Something’s Got A Hold On Me,” proved instrumental in laying the foundations of Welch’s budding career. Nine years, two chart-topping studio albums, two Brit Awards, and an MTV Video Music Award later, Florence + The Machine's third outing, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, offers a true-to-form continuation of that legacy.

In leading up to How Big, Island Records teased Welch devotees with a series of pastoral-themed videos for the lead single, “What Kind Of Man,” and title track, the latter depicting a heated altercation between Welch and a doppelganger inside an abandoned amphitheater. Drawing obvious inspiration from the experimental filmography of Kate Bush’s The Line, The Cross, & The Curve, the video exhibits the colorful, yet startling imagery that allows Welch’s powerhouse vocals and The Machine’s atmospheric arrangements to cultivate a definitively rich world.

That striking style is clear from the very first lines of the opening thrasher, “Ship To Wreck,” where Welch relates tales of violent Great White Sharks and Killer Whales singing lullabies to a shipwrecked lover. Again recalling Fleetwood Mac's front-woman, Welch infuses her lyrics with expansive symbolism that proves an engaging and essential trademark to her persona. On “What Kind of Man,” Welch invokes the sheer grit of Nicks circa 1979, a time when post-Rumours heartbreak and drug-use produced some of Stevie’s most haunting and pessimistic demos (see Nicks' livid outtake of “Smile At You”). Meanwhile, on the sparse “Various Storms & Saints,” Welch’s emotive performance over a solo lead guitar riff recalls Ann Wilson on Heart’s 1979’s B-Side track, “Mistral Wind.” Like Nicks and Wilson before her, Welch capitalizes on her innate lyrical prowess and raw angst to invite listeners into a world of tumultuous relationships framed within an ethereal backdrop.

Although How Big incorporates the same wide-ranging lyrical palette of Florence + The Machine’s backlog, Markus Dravs – taking over for longtime producer Paul Epworth, who stays for the album's closer, "Mother" – makes his presence known, opting to limit the ambient samples and grandiose orchestrations found on previous albums. The cawing crows of Lung's “Blinding,” and reverbed piano runs of “Seven Devils” are gone, instead replaced by a straightforward indie-rock sensibilities. Exceptions, however, include the oboes of “St. Jude” and the brassy arrangements of “Third Eye” and the title track—all of which add a substantial counterpoint to Welch’s imposing performances. Nevertheless, the relentless percussion of 2009’s “Drumming Song” and calypso of “My Boy Builds Coffins” has been stripped from How Big, along with all the other aural nuances that populated Welch’s compositions.

While How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful has toned downed the eccentricities found on past albums, the LP still relies on Florence + The Machine’s best assets: Welch’s stadium-sized vocals and world-weaving lyrics paired with The Machine’s intuitive instrumentation, grounded in new, but equally keen production. With Beyoncé citing Florence + The Machine as an inspiration for 2011’s 4 and Rihanna sampling the group's track, "If Only For A Night," for her upcoming 8th album, Florence Welch has already inspired as many contemporary divas as she has learned from past ones, and How Big proves she doesn't intend to stop anytime soon.

Track List:

  1. Ship To Wreck
  2. What Kind Of Man
  3. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
  4. Queen Of Peace
  5. Various Storms & Saints
  6. Delilah
  7. Long & Lost
  8. Caught
  9. Third Eye
  10. St. Jude
  11. Mother
Florence + The Machine - How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
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