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[Album Review] How Big How Blue How Beautiful by Florence and the Machine - Indie Rock (RR Task)


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How Big How Blue How Beautiful is the third offering from Florence Welch's Florence and the Machine, and was billed from the start as being a rawer album than we are used to. It has taken me some time to warm to this album, whereas I was straight in for Ceremonials, but it has improved over a few listens.


The album opens on a strong pop note with "Ship to Wreck"  - the strong vocals FatM are known for are still present here, but the track seems to abandon some of the more esoteric feelings of previous albums for purer pop.


"What Kind of Man" was the first single from the album, and is by far the strongest track. The balance between the softer start of the song and the violence of the chorus works really well. The visceral emotion of the vocals is really Florence at her best.


The title track, "How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful" is almost a combination of the first two. The same structure as "What Kind of Man", with a soft introduction that continues into a heavier chorus, but with the catchier pop feel of "Ship to Wreck" which culminates in a lovely orchestral segment. The addiction of the brass and flute during the chorus is a lovely touch, on which the song only builds. You could certainly imagine this one as being in an ad for a iPad.


This gently melds into the next track, "Queen of Peace", which opens with a brass segment reminiscent of a miner's band combined with the Tijuana Brass. It's an upbeat, well-constructed song.


"Various Storms & Saints" is the first time we hear the truly soulful quality of Florence's voice, helped along by the religious quality of the backing vocals. It has a ghostly tone to it, which fits in with the lyrics, and provides a nice break from the pace of the earlier songs.


Again, this track leads well into the slightly funkier "Delilah". The softness does not last long, as the basic piano and vocals swiftly picks up a nice backing drum beat. The crescendo of the song definitely brings to mind themes covered previously on Ceremonials.


"Long & Lost" brings us back down to the level of "Various Storms & Saints", with that same ghostly backing vocal accompaniment to a soft lead vocal. Perhaps not as lyrically or atmospherically strong as others, but definitely not a weak track.


"Caught" stands out for me as seeming a bit out of place with the rest, musically. It's a return to mainstream pop, with a very slight country feel that comes through. It's a light song which ends a bit abruptly, and doesn't add much to the overall experience for me.


We're back to where we should be with "Third Eye", however, which delivers more of the quirkier backing vocals, percussion and the aforementioned esoteric lyrics that I have come to love about Florence.


"St Jude" gives us a small reprieve before moving into the final act. It's almost a whisper of a song, breathed over a gentle orchestral arrangement, giving a very calming effect.


"Mother" is a beautiful song on which to close the album. It's got a 70s guitar rock feel, think Heart, that I actually wish had been present on other songs as well. It's smooth, and builds in power to end the album on a great note.


In my view, the album maybe lacks a bit of the strength and completeness of the more thematic and atmospheric Ceremonials (but then I was always a sucker for epicness). Apart from a few softer songs, I don't think the album really delivers on its promise of being a rawer, barer album. Florence's vocals are still just as harsh as always (which is not a bad thing), and the heavy percussion of Ceremonials is replaced by a lovely, if still strong, brass section. It is, all the same, a great album and, as I said, it improves on every listen.

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