Album Review: Florence and the Machine – ‘High as Hope’
Florence and the Machine‘s latest offering, their fourth album High as Hope, is just as the title suggests; A complex ode to the necessity of hope and love while amidst the depths of a struggle with addiction.
High as Hope is notably more stripped back than the groups’ previous work, but fans will not be disappointed by this at all. It still packs Florence’s trademark, gospel-influenced belting over driving drum beats and tambourines, and her poetic lyrical prowess is out in full force.
However, there’s a newfound vulnerability evident in the restraint of High as Hope. There’s a lot of light and shade across the album, which fluctuates between the hand-clapping, stomping anger in the breakdown of the songs like ‘100 Years’, to a mellow tenderness on the stripped-back, echoing chorus of ‘End of Love’. At first listen, it may seem to be lacking the percussive power of previous releases, but the real power of the album is its slow-burning, raw honesty.
A key theme are the allusions to her recent sobriety, and acknowledgement of past eating disorders and substance addictions. On the standout single ‘Hunger’, her lyrics set the mood of the album: “I thought that love was in the drugs / But the more I took, the more it took away / And I could never get enough.” The album addresses this honestly, dealing with both euphoria and regret in equal measures.
‘Hunger’ also best showcases Florence’s wild and dynamic vocal style: the intensity escalates exponentially and really shines bright. Perhaps closest in nature to her old material, it allows Florence to play with tone and expression, flowing seamlessly between vulnerability, ecstasy and rage. The song manages to be driving and uplifting without being overwhelming or bombastic.
By contrast, the track ‘Big God’ brings a dark, brooding atmosphere to the record with a deep, sparse drum track. The lyrics “Is it just part of the process? Because Jesus Christ it hurts” bring some raw anger and pain.
Themes of nostalgia and self reflection run deep through High as Hope, but particularly on ‘South London Forever’, a song about about heady days of a youth spent partying. The chorus’ repetition of “What else could be better than this…” feels hopeful among some darker lyrics and heavy subject matter. Whether apologising to her sister for damaging their relationship with substance abuse, or comparing her own self destructive behaviour with her grandmother’s suicide, it’s always balanced with a sense of optimism that, surprisingly, doesn’t feel misplaced.
Her song choices are complex, and for each thematic point on the album, Florence gives a counterpoint. ‘Big God’ seems to mock an idea of God for being useless in her darkest moments, whereas the track ‘Patricia‘ tells a story about discovering the value that spirituality can bring others. The song ‘Grace’ apologises for her wild behaviour, while ‘South London Forever’ celebrates it, in an honest and relatable mess of contradictions.
This latest release seems to find a way to give a sense of hope out of the depths of addiction, without being obtuse. Rather, she gives us a sense that happiness is love; fleeting and precious, and as complex as the album demonstrates. The honest and candid delivery of the strong lyrics are the hero of this record.