Four years after the release of Ceremonials, indie pop band Florence + the Machine makes an impassioned return with its third album, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, released May 29.
For months, frontwoman Florence Welch has discussed in interviews the band’s plan to peel back the layers of its sound with HBHBHB — but this album is far from a stripped down affair. Instead, Welch hides behind sounds of horns and woodwinds while taking listeners on a sonic tour of her recent mental breakdown.
Audiences relive Welch’s self-described “chaotic” past year through her lyrics’ trademark imagery. “Thousands of red-eyed mice” and a thrashing killer whale appear in her songs, making her manic nightmares easy to envision. The imagery won’t come as a surprise to any of Florence’s fans, but, on this album, the images become more personal.
Powerhouse vocals have also been a staple of Welch’s past two records but are noticeably absent on many of the album’s songs. Although Welch admitted she often likes to hide behind reverb and backing vocals, in HBHBHB she steps out from behind the effects and lets people hear her broken, angry and raw state.
Not to be outdone by the album’s strings and choir, Welch uses her vocals to transform herself on each song. As an angry siren on the album’s anthems “Ship to Wreck” and “Third Eye,” Welch screams her frustrations and curses those who have done her wrong. On “Caught” and “St. Jude,” Welch becomes a vulnerable little girl, coming to grips with reality.
These emotional shifts keep the album interesting as Welch navigates through the seven stages of grief. She comes full circle between the opening track, “Ship to Wreck,” and the album’s last song, “Make Up Your Mind.”
At first, she is confused and directs her anger at herself, denying the person she’s become — “What was is that I did? Did I drink too much? Am I losing touch?” Twelve tracks later, Welch accepts herself and, with a newfound confidence, challenges an ex-lover to “make up your mind … before I make it up for you.”
With this album, Welch doesn’t lose her dramatic flair for a minute and manages to simultaneously shed the walls that once hid her emotions. On HBHBHB, Welch designed her well-placed metaphors to let people into her thoughts rather than keep them out.
Although the album bears similarities to the band’s previous work, the album marks a shift in style, which is attributable to its new producer, Markus Dravs. The band’s first two albums stuck to the same formula of dreamy atmospheric effects and a few pop ballads. HBHBHB breaks free, bringing strength to each song and remains cohesive despite drawing from R&B, rock and gospel influences.
While the album won’t earn the band mainstream popularity, songs such as “Delilah” and “Ship to Wreck” will get it close. By working through her emotions, the album succeeds where Florence’s previous albums didn’t. With HBHBHB, Welch finally lets listeners know her — insecurities and all.
Album: How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
Artist: Florence + the Machine
Genre: Indie rock