Album Review: Florence & The Machine – High As Hope

A few years back Florence became one of only a handful of women to ever headline Glastonbury festival. Within moments of her set beginning it was clear she belonged up there. She has the songs, the voice and the charisma to headline anywhere. It shouldn’t have taken a rock legend’s broken leg to give her a chance to take an opportunity she had already earned and then some.

In an era where women are struggling to even get on festival bills AT ALL, let alone headline, we need Florence and the Machine more than ever. We need her at her epic, show-stopping best. If Florence is up there that might convince more festivals to book more women and inspire the next generation of women to aim for the same heights.

So it is hugely disappointing to see major publications like the Guardian and Pitchfork call out festivals for not having gender equal bills while simultaneously giving some major releases by women in 2018 overtly critical reviews. This has happened to Chvrches and now Florence. Media attention and critical praise isn’t the only thing that matters when it comes to festival bills but we’re kidding ourselves if we say it has no effect. When we need these artists to be celebrated, promoted and supported they are met with indifference and even sneering hatred by the media. What’s even more baffling is that the quality of music produced by these artists remains excellent and worthy of praise.

On her new album High As Hope Florence deals with a ‘dangerous’ period in her life, turning inwards to contemplate her own failings, the trouble with love, drugs, the world as a whole. Musically it is a little less baroque and dramatic than before, but the album still stuns with its big hearted whoosh of pianos and lush soundscapes.

The album actually begins slowly, the song June fading in to quiet contemplative lyrics about coping with life on tour. Problems with addiction and relationships are laid bare from the start, ‘the heavy days in June when Love became an act of defiance’. Then we have the epic refrain ‘hold onto each other’ repeated over and over like a mantra. This is a comfort blanket for the masses, an epic sing along to rouse us from whatever bleak moments have been keeping us down. Maybe if we just lean on each other then the dog days can finally be over.

The single Hunger is truly a remarkable achievement, with one of the most brutally honest opening lines of any mainstream song I can remember: At seventeen I started to starve myself / I thought that Love was a kind of emptiness. You can only admire the guts it took to sing this truth and use it to contemplate the hunger we all can experience in life and love.

South London Forever is a hymn to her home, a tribute to the culture of her youth and the love lost on the way. Everything I ever did is just another way to scream your name, she roars and it’s enough to give you goosebumps.

Big God is her best Kate Bush impression and was written with Jamie XX. It’s a song about the uncertainties of love and the exclamation ‘Jesus Christ it hurts’ sums up her feelings perfectly. Kudos must be given to Florence for not embracing trends when others big names in rock like Coldplay have sold out to pop, she is confident enough to experiment while still remaining defiant in her unique style.

Lead single Sky Full of Song is big and blue and beautiful, with the epic feel of any festival anthem. She’s been kissing strangers, causing scenes, flying but thankfully she has come down and written us some perfect songs like this one.

Then we have two songs on the album dedicated to important women in Florence’s life – her sister Grace and hero Patti Smith. Grace is an apology, a piano ballad about her regrets in life. I don’t say it enough, Grace you are so loved. It’s a tender moment of sisterly affection. Patricia has always been her ‘north star’ and her art has made the cold world beautiful. I love to hear songs like this when women honour other women and the fact that Florence is releasing her first book of poetry soon suggests she is taking inspiration from Patti in other ways too.

The most bombastic song on here is the solo write 100 Years. Hate won’t win, the darkness neither. No need to fight, just raise our voices and celebrate love. A dream inspired the song, ‘The End of Love’ and it does have an otherworldly poetic quality to it. The album closer No Choir honours those quiet moments of everyday love that might not seem worthy of writing a song about. No grand choirs appear but her grand ambition for this album is realised all the same.

In the past I have had some issues with Florence’s over-singing and while there’s definitely less of that on here maybe you need to be a little overblown, larger than life personality in your music and style if you’re going to take things up to another level – if you want to appeal to the masses. On this album Florence has let us inside her own personal life and by turning her problems and fears into beautiful moments of grace she shows us what art and music can really do. High As Hope takes us all under its wing and soars straight into the clouds. For the sake of women in music let’s just hope that her name soars as high on every future festival line up too.

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