Florence and the Machine’s new album is their most intimate and personal to date
In High as Hope, British songstress Florence Welch lets down her guard with wistful reflections on her past, and comes to terms with the loneliness of the spotlight and her new-found sobriety
The flame-haired British songstress has always been something of a pop anomaly. With her band, Florence and the Machine, she is created a rich catalogue of rousing anthems including Dog Days are Over, Shake It Out and What the Water Gave Me – songs that inspire wild dancing at her shows or in your bedroom, making you forget their often underlying darkness.
But be it her ethereal stage presence, scant interviews or colourful prose – painted by lofty themes of love, death and religion – it can sometimes feel like we’ve never really heard the real Welch. That changes on new album High as Hope, released last Friday, on which she lets down her guard with wistful reflections on her past and present.
That is no truer than on vulnerable lead single Hunger,” which opens with the admission, “At 17, I used to starve myself / I thought that love was a kind of emptiness.” It’s a reference to a past eating disorder, Welch told The New York Times, and the song works as an exorcism of sorts, as she comes to terms with the loneliness of the spotlight and her new-found sobriety.
Album highlight South London Forever vividly captures the bittersweet feeling of returning to her hometown, longing for the carefree days of young love and bleary parties, when she’d stumble home with her friends “like foals unsteady on their feet”.
Patricia is a joyous ode to one of her musical idols, Patti Smith, while Grace named for Welch’s younger sister, feels as if it’s ripped straight from her diary, as she apologises for an incident on Grace’s 18th birthday and promises to be better.
Welch, who is listed as co-producer for the first time on Hope, once again relies on sweeping strings, pummelling drums and a heavenly host of backing vocalists, which may give fans déjà vu to the band’s past albums on tracks such as Sky Full of Song and 100 Years.
But the ominous, stripped-back Big God – a guttural cry for connection that is actually just about getting ghosted via text – signals exciting potential for their sound moving forward, and reminds us that Welch’s most indelible instrument will always be her electrifying voice.