High as Hope is the fourth studio album by the English indie rock band Florence and the Machine, set to be released on 29 June 2018 by Republic Records and Virgin EMI Records. It has been preceded by the singles "Sky Full of Song" and "Hunger".
Background and recording
On 18 April 2017, Nathan Willet, the frontman of Cold War Kids hinted in an interview, that the band's fourth album is in the works by expressing that he had collaborated with Welch. The news was confirmed by Welch herself on 27 May 2017, in an interview for The Daily Telegraph. On 28 February 2018, the band's drummer, Christopher Hayden announced via Instagram that he had parted ways with the band. In March 2018, the Dutch Record Store Day website revealed that a new single by the band would be released on 21 April 2018, titled "Sky Full of Song". The listing was later removed. The single was released on 12 April 2018. The song is accompanied by a video, which was directed by AG Rojas. On 6 April 2018, the BBC announced that the band would headline the BBC Music Biggest Weekend on 26 May 2018, where the band is expected to debut new work. The band is set to perform worldwide as well, with shows scheduled throughout 2018.
The myth of the tortured artist predates pop music by a few hundred years at least. The idea that meaningful art is forged in some crucible of suffering will very likely survive as a concept, even when all the hits we bounce around to are generated entirely by algorithms. What happens, though, when a drama queen craves a little peace?
Over the past decade, Florence Welch has been one of the ultimate British poster girls for eventfulness – for heartbreak and abandon and a kind of wild, feminine too-muchness – an impression only amplified by the might of her lungs. One of a handful of contemporary female artists whose voices you can spot instantly, Welch’s instrument could upgrade a splinter to a matter of national security with one exhalation.
Thankfully, she’s even better when it matters. Hunger, the standout track released ahead of High As Hope, her fourth studio album, reveals Welch’s teenage eating disorder, of how she conflated her hunger for love with the “kind of emptiness” induced by starvation. We all have a void within, she concludes. Bellowing about it helps – not just Welch, but anyone affected by the issues raised.
You can actually view Welch’s previous decade of work as repeated peeks into the void, via the stormy interplay of air and water – the gusts summoned from her chest, the billowing hair and fluttering dresses augmenting the galloping ethereality of Florence + the Machine’s music. That one elemental power has been offset by all the drowning: watery female suicides like Ophelia’s or Virginia Woolf’s, referenced in 2011’s What the Water Gave Me. The tide rose so high at one point that her last producer, Markus Dravs, reportedly banned Welch from writing about water. Yeah, right: the result was an album called How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful.
High As Hope still has the odd damp patch, and does not lack for oxygen: references to skyscrapers, and overproduced backing vocals see to that. There are skies full of song. The first track showcased from the album, however, Sky Full of Song – released on Record Store Day – actually finds Welch the storm-chaser demanding to be brought down to earth. We’ve had soil before in Florence + the Machine songs (“Pull the earth around me to make my bed” – Ship to Wreck) but never a craving for the mundane.
“I’ve been flying for too long,” she sings, begging someone to grab her ankles. High As Hope, then, remains a Florence Welch album, with all the gale-force vocals that entails, but here Welch is trying to chase the opposite of the storm: the calm. What would an artist known for walking into glass doors sound like if she were more grounded?
“It’s hard to write about being happy,” she sings a cappella on No Choir, the surprising closing track. “No chorus could come in about two people sitting doing nothing.” No Choir is, hands down, one of the most affecting songs on the album: just Welch, doing nothing with someone and pondering how to make meaningful art from it. “Oh darling, things were so unstable but for a moment we were able to be still,” she sings, and you kind of do want to punch the air a bit. If this album suffers slightly from a lack of bangers – the notionally rousing one about empowerment, 100 Years, actually misfires badly, never finding a tune – it gains significantly from little “meta” moments such as this, or when, on a song called The End of Love, Welch sings about seeing the title on a sign in a dream, and how singing about it would make a good line for a song.
In interviews, Welch has detailed how she stopped drinking some time ago, in an effort to even out. High As Hope was written largely in Peckham, south London, near the singer’s house, with Welch apparently riding her bike to the studio. More was added in LA (with co-producer Emile Haynie) and New York, with interventions from artists as diverse as Kamasi Washington (sax and multiple horn arrangements) and south London bedfellows such as Jamie xx (helped with Big God) and Sampha (co-wrote and sings on Grace). In the interim, her sister had a baby: super grounding, if at one removed from Welch herself. Welch dialled down, read books, nurtured her art and wrote poetry, some of which will be included alongside lyrics in her forthcoming book, Useless Magic, which comes out in July.
Welch could never be accused of being an impersonal artist, but a good spell of High As Hope is not only personal but direct. Grace, the one for her younger sister, strives to make amends – apologising for ruining birthdays, and being too dependent. On it, Welch also wonders if she’d make her mother proud by going back to university: not your usual major label pop fare.
Music could benefit from a periodic Bechdel test: here, Welch would pass it with flying colours with not one but two songs about other women. Patricia is a song for an idol, Patti Smith – Welch’s “North Star” – about “the doors” being “open to the believer”.
If neither of these is likely to be sung at the top of one’s lungs at a future Glastonbury, Welch does have one vestigial dose of drama up her kimono sleeve. Starting with minor key piano chords, and made majestic by Washington’s horns, Big God is one of those Welch songs that reverberate up from the pit of her abdomen, rather than wafting from her chest. As well as her usual swoops and whoops, here Welch shouts, huffs and creaks like a rusty door – and it sounds great. The singer has jokingly dismissed Big God as a song about unanswered text messages but it sounds both ruder than that (“You need a big God, big enough to fill you up” – there’s that void again) and deeper. Although Welch doesn’t so much cry a river as howl a metaphorical one, here directness serves her well. “Jesus Christ, it hurts,” she croaks.
SOURCE: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/jul/01/florence-the-machine-high-as-hope-review User Comments