Florence + The Machine’s third album, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is simultaneously expected and surprising. While the music itself is in the same vein as her previous two albums, with driving drums and powerful vocals, the content level is not. Florence is unflinching in laying out her tumultuous emotions, and a strong current of an unequal love runs throughout.
While Florence has written about pain before, both in Lungs and Ceremonials, there is something different here. There is almost a pleading, mixed with anger and frustration at the person who could not give back to her what she was giving to him (what kind of man loves like this/ to let me dangle at a cruel angle, “What Kind of Man”). She has loved for years, and works through the ups and downs of their relationship throughout the album, finally concluding in “St Jude”, who is the patron saint of lost causes that “we were lost before she started.” She is willing to lay out both her strength and her weakness, singing in “Delilah,” that she’s “gonna be free and I’m gonna be fine” but then thinks, “maybe not tonight” as she’s “holding on for your call.” She admits that she is hooked by this person, hopeful that things might get better, despite knowing it never will in “Caught”: “the dream of you, it sleeps too/ but it never slips away/ it just gains strength and digs its hooks/ to drag me through the day/ and I’m caught.”
This album showcases all of the best parts of Florence: it is at once dark and painful, quiet and hopeful, and angry and powerful, all while delivering gorgeous instrumentation and driving, dancing beats. It is decidedly less poppy than some of her previous work, although some of that does creep in, particularly on the bonus tracks, which are just as good as the rest of the album, if not better. We see a transformation, a growth of Florence, as she sings us through her vulnerability, her pain, and her hope about this relationship.
There is even something reverential about this collection of songs. From beautiful harmonies and choral background vocals, to references of saints (Various Storms & Saints, St Jude), Biblical characters (Delilah), organs, and even chants (Third Eye, St Jude), this album brings out the beautiful holiness of the kind of love she had. Her words make us stand still for a moment to take in the beauty and fragility of love, to stop and show respect to its power over us. It is a striking, brilliant third release, shimmering with strength and a desperate vulnerability that has me hooked.
- Lindsey Wright.