With each past release, Florence Welch has consistently built her sound, and her commercial product. Ceremonials saw a great balance in her artistry, but also her ability to sell to the masses. Welch’s third studio album, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, is an expansion in sound, I’m just not yet convinced it will be as successful as the predecessor. If we look at the quality of the album in terms of her musical skill, it’s of course impressive. Overall – it’s a great addition to her discography.
Yet while I was quite excited to set my ears on this one, I was little underwhelmed when the album started off a little slow. There is always an honesty to Welch’s lyrical narrative, but the first two tracks ‘Ship to Wreck’ and ‘What Kind of Man’ held hardly enough traction to develop a sincere interest in hearing the rest. After hearing the full release, I was left wondering why ‘What Kind of Man’ was the lead single, as there are a sum of better tracks on the listing.
In ‘What Kind of Man’, the song starts with Welch’s angelic vocals, yet introduces a prevalent electric guitar that acts as a jarring metronome throughout the chorus. With then, the harsher delivery of her vocals to achieve an emotional goal, the chorus was rather rough on the ears, and I found myself apprehensive when I knew it was approaching. Yet, somehow, she didn’t lose me! And hey, she won’t lose you either.
From ‘Delilah’ all the way through to ‘St. Jude,’ it was beautiful track after beautiful track. My foot was having an intense conversation with my coffee table, to the point where I knocked over my glass of red.
So, on that note, I believe Florence Welch might owe my carpet a duty of care.
‘Delilah’ perfectly utilised a call and response approach to the elements, building anticipation for that marvellous drop of the beat. While ‘Delilah’ has now been announced as the 4th single off the album, it arguably should have been the first. This is the track that correctly encapsulates the theme of the album, and gives a much better representation of that than ‘What Kind of Man’ suggests.
‘Long and Lost’ was the fragile, delicate, simple serenade to break it all up. ‘Caught’ showcased just how earthy and with angst Welch’s vibrato can go. While ‘Third Eye’ has quite the catchy hook in ‘that original lifeline,’ which I was unashamedly singing in the shower last night. ‘St. Jude’ is just a winner, and it delivers exactly what it’s selling. It was within the first four chords that I knew I was sold. This sequence marked the pace of the song, but it also marked the essence. The audio effects used on the 2nd and 4th markers created an archaic space for the song to ring through. Like a large cliff over an open ocean, or an industrial warehouse dripping in fabric. With her haunting vocals opening up the range of emotional content, the track is incredibly expressive.
I think artists often underestimate the power of a piano and a strong harmonic sequence. There was romance mixed with heartbreak, and it was constantly there, pulling at your empathy, singing, ‘St. Jude / Patron Saint of the lost Causes / St. Jude / We were lost before she started / St. Jude / We lay in bed as she wept around us / St. Jude / Maybe I’ve always been more comfortable in chaos.’ This track is narrative and art. It may not be the most commercially viable, but its fast one of my favourites of 2015.
It also exemplifies the power Welch has working with James Ford (who has worked with Haim, Beth Ditto, and other Florence tracks such as ‘Dog Days are Over’). On this album, the two are the responsible collaboration for both ‘St. Jude’ and ‘Caught’, the two best tracks on the album. With this in mind, I do wish this duo’s influence were heard more throughout How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. Particularly with the absence of Paul Epworth on the track listings (he was all over Ceremonials), the quality of the package as a ‘product’ suffers a little. There isn’t as much inclination to jump around, or sing a track at the top of your lungs, and this case, neither to run out and buy a ticket for her just announced Splendour in the Grass sideshows.
Still, she’s a redhead, so she is a-ok in my books.
‘How Big, How Blue, Beautiful’ will be released 1st of June, through Island Records.