High as Hope
Florence + the Machine
“And it’s hard to write about being happy / ‘Cause the older I get / I find that happiness / Is an extremely uneventful subject,” begins “No Choir,” the final track in the latest Florence + the Machine album, “High as Hope.”
Like, I have no doubt, many Florence + the Machine fans, I approached the new album with a certain amount of trepidation. Could Florence & co follow up on the high notes of previous albums? Or has success flattened their highs and lows, caused them to churn out smoothed-out facsimiles of their previous impassioned efforts?
“High as Hope” is not, on first listen, quite as striking an album as, say, “Lungs” or “Ceremonials.” It doesn’t have quite the same up-and-down element, with some songs (I would argue) much stronger than others, and avoids the driving rhythms of songs such as “Howl”
or “Dog Days are Over.”
Instead, it makes the band’s gospel and folk roots plain, returning to the a cappella-infused sound and ambiguous religiosity of songs such as “You’ve Got the Love“, but more so. The opening track, “June,” sneaks up on so softly that I originally thought it hadn’t loaded, and restarted it. The the whole album has a stripped-down sound, often with minimal orchestration as in the folk-esque “Sky Full of Song,”
or the overtly gospely-with-a-tinge-of-jazz “Grace.”
In fact, the whole album has a little of that jazzy, almost easy-listening, flavor, but, despite the words to “No Choir,” this is not an uneventful album. Instead, a more mature lyrical “I” reflects on her past mistakes, and, with a grace perhaps not seen previously, creates a smooth, subtle, complex work of art that explores relationships (romantic and otherwise), faith, and forgiveness. Previous fans will probably find enough of the old Florence + the Machine to come back, while also enjoying something new, while if you haven’t discovered Florence + the Machine yet, now is the time to do so.