Review: Florence + The Machine 'High As Hope'
The last time I sat down to write one of these I was attempting to unpick the lyrical in-jokes and metaphor entangled in Arctic Monkeys’ Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, and feeling kinda stroppy about it. What left me so cold about the Monkeys’ record wasn't Turner’s writing style, it was the monotonous lounge bar sound. High As Hope is just the tonic I needed, totally restoring my faith in poetic, verbose albums which also serve as dreamy background music.
Critics love to dig deep into context, or the location of the studio, or the type of synth used on track five, but sometimes this totally misses the point. Allowing myself to be gross for a sec, what makes a record memorable is mostly how it makes you feel / dance /get through a 12 hour shift etc etc. If you're someone who ranks your fave albums best on how ‘technically’ good they are, this review ain't for you.
Now the pedants have left the building, here's my wildly subjective take on Florence’s fourth album. Oh and while we're on the note of pedantry, yes I'm gonna refer to ‘Florence’, ‘her’ and ‘she’ throughout. Sorry not sorry, this is a one woman show, can we stop calling her a ‘rock band’ already?
High As Hope is suitably genre-neutral, with a massively pared down theatrics compared to her previous three studio albums. Flo gives us a lil wink to her simplified sound on “No Choir”, a calm, semi-a cappella ode to the banality of peaceful love. It's opener ‘It's hard to write about being happy’ is neat takeaway for the vibe of High As Hope, and anyone pining after the chaotic sound of “Ship To Wreck” or “What Kind Of Man” from 2015’s How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful should try and be a little happier for our gal. She’s been vocal both in song and in interview about how arduous her struggle to find peace has been, and her mellower sound speaks to a far greater sense of personal calm than has ever been present on her previous output.
It takes some courage to create an album which is so chill after releasing the noisy HBHBHB, headlining Glastonbury and selling out an arena tour this autumn. High As Hope doesn't need to shout its message at you, and that’s another nod to Florence’s deepening self confidence and maturity. The whole record feels like a memory, but in the least rose-tinted way possible. Allowing herself to be fully vulnerable, she’s opened her teenage diary, tackling unglamorous topics like her teenage eating disorder (“Hunger”), recent sobriety, and being ghosted (“Big God”). The moments of kitchen sink drama ground an album that could easily otherwise get lost in poetry.
“Grace”, a love letter to her sister, centres the record in familial love. ‘Sorry I ruined your birthday’ is definitely something I've said to my own sister before, and anyone with siblings knows the courage it takes to apologise. “South London Forever” is another track pulling us deep back into Flo’s past, and is maybe my fave on the album. In listening to it it’s hard not to feel gutted I ever moved north of the river or stopped being a seventeen-year-old who kissed boys on bandstands.
Parts of High As Hope feel like the airing of an open wound, an exorcism of Florence’s demons, an apology to her friends and family. The absence of men is a treat. HBHBHB felt like a breakup record, whereas the men on this album are family, or forgotten teenage kisses and boys who don't text back. Instead, Florence is studying herself, and when she spits the line ‘hubris is a bitch’ on “100 Years”, the attack could easily be self-referential. She’s come back down to earth, and our peaceful queen has delivered a record that allays fears that happiness is boring, sobriety uninspiring or songs about women un-relatable. There's an entire song about Patti Smith for god’s sake! If you need more persuasion, maybe go back to your fiftieth play of Tranquility Base and jog on.