If I could describe Florence and the Machine’s latest album, High as Hope, in one word, it would be goosebumps. I was merely 45 seconds into the first song and I had goosebumps up and down my arms. The last time I felt this way about a record, let alone a single song, was Harry Styles’ debut album that was released last May; more specifically, his first single, “Sign of the Times”. I would do anything to go back to that first time hearing his voice sing a stunning, five and a half minute song that truly separated him from his boyband days. Although, the thing with Florence is that she is not doing anything out of her comfort zone. She is not shocking anybody. She simply delivers time and time again. And I wish the same thing when it comes to each of her songs: that I could erase it from my memory and hear it all from the beginning without knowing how spectacular her voice is going to be.
Florence Welch’s stunning voice could make anything sound good, but when she sings her own songs, the songs she wrote, the songs she knows the perspective of… it’s a whole different story. Each song on this record is written or co-written by her, hence the goosebumps I get just thinking about it. As mentioned before, “June”, the introductory track, is a slow burning masterpiece that might be her best piece of music ever. That might be a pretty bold statement, but I stand by it, for it is so deep, so outstandingly lovely and powerful that it’s pushing boundaries within her own discography. She begs the listeners to “hold onto each other” in a political and social climate where love is “an act of defiance.”
Love is an underlying theme on this record, but not necessarily bubblegum pop love between a boy and a girl. The love sung about on High as Hope focuses on coming together to find love in a situation, find light, find a community; growing together, flourishing together. As well as self-love, where one comes to terms with who they are and works for themselves, because loving yourself first is vital. As written in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” I believe that Florence feels that now, as she herself has lived a life of love and loss, both internally and externally. There was a time where fame and her didn’t mix very well and found herself on a path of binge-drinking, anguish, and sorrow. She recounts this confusing and conflicting time in her life in an soul crushing, yet equally sweet and mesmerizing song entitled “South London Forever”.
“South London Forever” is actually a quite up-tempo, summery track that brings the true emotions behind the song to the table through its lyrics. “And I go home alone/I drive past the place that I was born/And the places that I used to drink/Young and drunk and stumbling in the street,” the song begins with harsh truth that Florence knows all too well. She continues on, later crooning and questioning, “But did I dream too big? Do I have to let it go?” Her rambunctious, dangerous, reckless youth is on full display, but her inner feelings are all she wanted to showcase. Her voice flutters alongside the evenly paced drum beats and twinkling piano sounds, where all she sings explain her cries for attention and her inner turmoil that she can speak about now, as she has grown. She can remember South London and all that came with it, but she has moved forward and can sing about it now, albeit with eye opening emotions running high. The production on High as Hope marks a turning point in her career. There are many tracks that are stripped down, keeping the synth and keyboard’s purpose subtle, almost effortless; although necessary. The stylistic choices made are what create the album and made it as divine as it is. “Patricia”, an ode to Patti Smith, is one of the least personal tracks found on this new album, but not at all closed up. Patti Smith is an inspiration of Florence’s, so that in itself is personal, but it proves that a song can still be energetic and wholesome, even if stripped of elaborate, often over-the-top production and extensive, occasionally unnecessary instrumentals. Nothing on this new Florence and the Machine album is unnecessary, as each and every bang of the drum and strum of the guitar was particularly curated and chosen to build the story of the song, not mask it or overpower it. Welch found a home in this record; a home that she is comfortable in, one that is filled with acceptance, love, and growth. Baring her soul within her songs is not a new feat for her, but the approach and style of which she is doing it has stunned us all. At only 31 years old, she is able to look back, feel nostalgic, and show us all that it is never too early or too late to find your inner strength or work toward self-love. She did it. She sings about it, in a beautiful voice that speaks to each listener’s soul. How? Because her words come from her soul, her mind, and her heart. That is what gives me goosebumps.