Florence + The Machine’s new album, High as Hope, was released on June 30 and is the fourth and most intimate of the artist’s albums. If you’re familiar with headliner Florence Welch’s previous work, you know her sound. It’s heavy and dramatic with church-like instrumentals while her uniquely ethereal and mighty voice rings out. High as Hope shifts from the familiar as Welch takes us into new territory. The latest album is pared-down and raw. This an intimate record with a clear and honest tone. The collection of 10 songs provides new variety for the veteran Florence + The Machine listener; most of the songs are experimental peppered with some that are callbacks to her established sound, like the throbbing track “Big God”. Welch is no stranger to soul-baring lyrics but this album strips down her usually mystical words and presents us with personal lyrics as she shares her secrets in the form of sound.
These songs are confessional; in “Hunger”, arguably Welch’s most personal song yet, she talks about her past struggles with an eating disorder, a topic she never touched on before in her music considering the theme of her previous albums is all-consuming love. There are multiple songs that touch upon Welch’s drug use in the past. The track “Grace” is very much an apology letter in which Welch recalls a friend she feels she had treated badly in the past due to her to careless drug use. Each song presents itself like a letter, some specifically reference an individual, like in the track “Patricia”, while the first song on the album, “June” could be to a number of people, perhaps even as a letter the artist wrote to herself.
“No Choir” is the most “grown up” of the self-aware tracks on the album. It’s less dramatic with only Welch and a piano giving the song a more refined and self-exploratory tone. Welch sings:
“And it’s hard to write about being happy/ ‘Cause the older I get/ I find that happiness is an extremely uneventful subject”. Welch explains that she feels like there’s less exhilaration in happiness but she has to learn that happiness doesn’t have to be big and loud; it can be quiet. She’s finding a balance between life’s highs and lows and the comfort one can have there, furthering the album’s theme of growth.
The instrumentals that accompany Florence + The Machine’s latest album are a drastic change from the previous four albums which have a distinct sound that made her music instantly recognizable. Intense drums, flying wind instruments, and swooning violins are the usual sounds one can expect from Florence Welch. High as Hope features the same instrumental subjects but they have been toned down to draw the focus to Welch’s raw and clear voice.
As a long time listener, it took me a couple of listening sessions to get used to the new sound. I was drawn to Florence’s sound originally for its magical and metaphorical lyrics and the ceremonial atmospheric quality to the music. High as Hope challenges the expectations that listeners have for a Florence + The Machine album just as Welch has chosen to challenge herself by doing something new. This new album shows growth from past experiences and expresses something new, something with hope.