Let us not beat around the bush here; the primary reason we love Florence is because of her yelling. That magnificently melodic maelstrom that she manifests within all of her greatest hits, like a mad-woman shouting at a hurricane, it’s fantastic stuff. These days, four years is a long time to go between albums but with 2011’s Ceremonials spawning six huge singles, plus that hook-up with Calvin Harris (not to mention a unique sound in today’s popscape) it’s unlikely anyone was going to be forgetting her in a hurry. Recruiting producer Marcus Dravs solely due to his work on Bjork’s 1997 album Homogenic, Welch is refining her sound further still on album three, focussing on that balance between organic and electronic.
That alchemy is apparent immediately, with album openers ‘Ship To Wreck’ and ‘What Kind Of Man’ both containing that old-school Florence emotional prowess and eerily powerful delivery. Next up, the title track is definitely imbued with Goldfrapp’s influence (Will Gregory provides bass arrangements for the album), as a bit of a breather after the opening one-two punch, but then it’s back to business as usual on the stompingly raucous ‘Queen Of Peace’.
Throughout the album, when she’s not giving welly with that yelling, she’s winding herself up tight over tracks like ‘Various Storms & Saints’ or ‘Long & Lost’; you can actually feel Welch coiling tautly around the melody, all build up and very little of that cathartic climax we all know and love her for. Even when she’s playing it relatively low-key, you can’t help but feel the tension building, as the listener has a Pavlovian expectation for the roof to be tore off, and for it not to arrive when we expect it to.
When the tracks do arrive upon which she unleashes The Yelling the effect is compounded ten-fold, and by golly, does Florence have a lot to yell about. The man she loves (‘Caught’), the man she wants to love (‘Third Eye’), the man she used to love (‘St. Jude’) … even love as an ideology itself gets a good seeing throughout. Then there’s the likes of ‘Delilah’, in which she develops a bit of a girl-crush on someone who’s a little too party-hard, or closing track ‘Mother’ which is filled with descriptions (“Mother / Make me / A bird of prey / So I can fly over all of this”) which are delivered with pure anger and we’re never quite sure are intended as compliments or insults.
The only issue with How Big How Blue How Beautiful is that while The Machine ain’t broke, Florence has no desire to fix it… nor to update it. Most of the tracks on here would’ve easily slotted on to Lungs or Ceremonials, such is the lack of progress since Welch exploded into our lives. We’re not quite at the stage where she’s beginning to sound a little too samey – primarily because she sounds so unlike anything else out there right now – but how many more albums that sound exactly the same before we do? Thankfully it’s not a problem Florence has to deal with right now, but it’s definitely something to be weary of on the horizon.