Besides being a description for Doctor Manhattan’s unmentionables, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is the third album from London songstress Florence Welch, singer (and radiant earth goddess) of the group Florence + the Machine. Truthfully, there was a reluctance to pick up this release. Nothing prepared me for how surprised I would be.
Welch has been prone to create songs during bouts of intoxication, which does not surprise me given the whirlpool that is “Ship to Wreck”. A bassline helps restrain the constant water imagery along the rocky paths that are the sustained Ahhhhs. With great production values, the choral bridge helps deliver sonic screeches from sirens that you will love. “What Kind of Man” explores a familiar ethereal sound on the band’s previous release Ceremonials, having an effect that feels as if Welch’s voice is being torn. Rock guitars come at us, a surprise that becomes less of a surprise as they become interspersed throughout the album. Drums throb as Welch’s angry question drives the wedge.
The title track of the record is initially filled with lyrics reminiscent of a Lana Del Rey song. Thankfully, this is remedied with the sharp brass fills that compliment Welch’s vocals. At its halfway point, the track casts an atmosphere that the best mage can amass with their energy at full power. Welch generates an incredible sky, with whales, sharks, and vast other fish in it. Brass and woodwind allow an imagination the size of a Disney classic. Welch does not allow that childhood phantasm to finesse away, instead she gives its remaining energy to “Queen of Peace”, a song that feels like a sunset fuelled by violins and battle-ready brass.
“Delilah” is the lovely mess of what happens when you let a drunk lead a ballroom dance. The call and response introduction does much to hide the track’s true intent. Loud piano keys greet the more upbeat tempo. She utters how she moonlights, and that’s what this song does as she embraces her vocal range. The motif of the mother is explored in a few songs on the album, this and the final track being a couple of them. “Long & Lost” does not feel like the hangover, but instead that feeling of being in a bar having realized the dance you had in “Delilah” was just a fantasy. Melodically, Welch is perfect along the guitar strings, but with the common theme of home and cliché lines about burning bridges, it is clear that one of the album’s low-points are some of its lyrics. For instance, the next song “Caught”, insufferably rhymes the title with “taught”, and though the lo-fi indie sensation, twinkly notes, and drums are great, they do not bandage the sore thumb.
“Third Eye” is like a bonus track on Ceremonials. Welch commands us to “look up!” in a way that reminds me of a hammy school play, while “St. Jude” feels like a track with cringe-inducing lyrics penned by Fall Out Boy.
Like Paramore had done with their post-rock closer at the end of Paramore, Welch explores a classic rock feel in “Mother”, with twangy guitar strings, a clicker, and then a garage rock sound that feels psychedelic at points. Nature, religion, and static course through the song while she lets loose triumphant Ahhhhhs.
Stephen King penned a section in Under the Dome called “Wear it home, it’ll look like a dress,” an apt title for those wanting to exude the charm that Welch has delivered stunningly with this release. Wear tattered newspapers and dance like you are drunk. Make the black sky seem brighter. You control space, time, and love.
Dustin Ragucos is a writer of things fictional, poetic, and musical. His main loves include Death Grips and Indie music. Dustin’s blog is host to a weekly blurb about albums old and new.