Florence Welch has long been living in the darkness. Be it the darkness of a bad relationship, as on Florence + the Machine’s third album, 2015’s How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful; the darkness of one’s own inner demons, which she faced on 2011’s Ceremonials; or the darkness of death, as on 2009’s Lungs. She has now entered the relative light with High As Hope, out 29th June.
Since the last album — the last tour, really — Welch has given up drinking and that aforementioned bad relationship. If the lyrics here are any indication, she decided to air it all out once she went back into the studio. “June,” the album’s first track and the first song she wrote, channeled the energy to get Welch going. Like How Big, the music and song presentation here are less dramatic than the first two albums, but the lyrics reveal that Welch’s intense emotional state, at least leading up to the recording of the album, had flown well beyond the atmosphere and shot into outer space. “Hunger” addresses both her issues with food and her creative desires. “Big God” seems to speak from a place of despair not unlike the addict coming up from rock bottom, working their steps and rekindling their relationship with a higher power. “Sky Full of Song” sounds like it’s addressed to Welch and to those who have too tightly embraced their role as a rock star, ending in an early demise. “The End of Love” is a gorgeous song with some of the most terrible lyrics about self-destructive behaviour.
While her words explore the darkest corners of herself, the music explores something more traditional, seeing pedal steel, mellotron (a 1960s keyboard favoured by the Beatles in their more experimental recordings), ukulele, harp, cello, and tenor sax all making appearances — none of which are particularly popular in most modern pop recordings. Welch also explored another new territory: asking for a co-producer credit, which she got.
“And it’s hard to write about being happy / Because the older I get, I find that happiness is an extremely uneventful subject,” Welch sings in “No Choir,” the album’s final track, apparently forgetting the massive successes that are Elton John’s “Your Song,” Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight,” Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One,” Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud,” and dozens of other songs about happy long-term relationships. Happiness in her relationships is not where Welch has ever found her muse, but its hard to deny her own personal happiness coming through on this album. Music is where she chases her demons, and it’s a part of her process worth putting on record.