For Florence Welch, the success of her first two Florence + the Machine albums Lungs (2009) and Ceremonials (2011) meant five years of back-to-back recording, promoting and touring. Lungs ran straight into the making, promoting and touring of the Grammy-nominated Ceremonials, an album written while on the road and recorded straight after coming off tour. The shows were getting bigger, the hair redder, the success wider and wilder.
A pop star at 21, with two international hit albums behind her, Florence discovered that in giving seven years to her music, some elements of real life had been left by the wayside. Coming back from tour and moving out of her mother’s Camberwell home, Florence re-engaged with normal life: going out, falling in and out of love, and simply trying to learn how to look after herself outside of the hermetic bubble of life of the road.
“It was sort of a crash landing” Florence freely admits, “I guess although I’ve always dealt in fantasy and metaphor when I came to writing, that meant the songs this time were dealing much more in reality. Ceremonials was so fixated on death and water, and the idea of escape or transcendence through death, but the new album became about trying to learn how live, and how to love in the world rather than trying to escape from it. Which is frightening because I’m not hiding behind anything but it felt like something I had to do.”
And so the new Florence, and her songs, started to swim into focus.
The result is How Big How Blue How Beautiful a collection of songs, written and recorded over the course of 2014. Produced by Markus Dravs (Björk, Arcade Fire, Coldplay) with contributions from Paul Epworth, Kid Harpoon and John Hill, the third album by Florence + the Machine is live-sounding, tune-rich, unhinged in all the right places and powerful in all the best ways. In voice and, ultimately, outlook Florence has never sounded better.
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