How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

Florence + The Machine

Universal, 2015

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, THIS happens: a retro-inspired masterpiece, from its classic and elegant black and white cover design to what is perhaps the most mainstream-sounding music Florence Welch and her Machine have attempted thus far. There’s still no lyric sheet, which is somewhat disappointing (especially when trying to decipher the words for “Mother” and the erratic bonus track “Which Witch,” which is chockfull of crazed vocals), especially considering the bulk of the credit booklet. But with the photos, even the packaging is something to marvel at.

We open with a blast of glorious sound for the new single, “Ship To Wreck,” and it’s clear from the get-go that Florence’s voice seems even more assured this time around, especially on the chorus lines: “Did I drink too much, am I losing touch, did I build this ship to wreck…” Next up is the brilliant lead-off single, “What Kind Of Man,” featuring the now-expected slow opening before giving way to piercing electric guitar stabs, booming bass drums, and blaring horns. It all adds up to a kind of primal urgency that make this one a lovelorn feminist anthem for the ages. And does anybody else notice that Flo’s pronunciation of the word “this” sounds just like “these”? Remember Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)”? One thing this album proves is that everything old is brand spanking new again.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

If you’re expecting the sound of harp anywhere on How Big, you’ll be sadly disappointed (even though the big bass drum is still there in spades). Personally, I am more than thrilled that they’ve substituted a horn section. It really does capitalize on building the band’s sound up a notch even higher. One listen to a track like the Dylan-esque “Caught” will make you realize just how much we’ve been missing music like this. Kudos to them for bringing us right back to the 1970s. The title track is another clear example of this, totally reminiscent of ‘70s era Fleetwood Mac. Combined with those horns, it’s pure gold.

The overlapping lyrical interplay on “Third Eye” is something fresh and unique, with dueling lines like, “There’s a hole where your heart lies,” “Your original lifeline” and “I’m the same, I’m the same, I’m trying to change,” which all shed light on today’s deteriorating human condition. What sets this album apart from the two previous is indeed the writing. “I’m most comfortable in chaos” on “St. Jude,” sets the haunting tone this act has mastered so artfully this decade.

It’s also refreshing to hear more upbeat material, like the transcendent “Queen Of Peace” and “Delilah,” which builds to a fiery crescendo. Sandwiched in between these two cruise missiles is “Various Storms & Saints.” This song stands by itself in a spotlight all its own, with mournful guitar and languid vocals all contributing to its stark beauty. And truer words were never sung: “Hold on to your heart, don’t give it away.” Even a brief, quiet respite like “Long & Lost” shouldn’t be forgotten or lost in the shuffle. Somewhat surprisingly, the additional tunes contained on the Deluxe version are something of an afterthought. But hey, does perfection really need any bonus tracks?

Rating: A

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© 2015 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Universal, and is used for informational purposes only.