Before I get started, I would just like to say that this is the swaggiest, minimalistic cover ever. It’s all badass and David Bowie-esque. Anyway, this is an album review, not an album cover review.
I’ve always listened to Florence Welch and her band casually but I would never consider myself a fan. Lungs was cool to me, even though I hate “Dog Days” with a passion that burns like 1000 suns. Even though I really liked Ceremonials (which provided us with the sample for the best instrumental of the last decade), I still wouldn’t call myself a fan. Well outside of knowledge of the artist, what draws me to an album is 1) the cover, which we’ve already discussed and 2) the title. My favorite album title of all time is Fiona Apple’s When the Pawn…(Short for: When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He’ll Win the Whole Thing ‘fore He Enters the Ring There’s No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might so When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights and If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land and If You Fall It Won’t Matter, Cuz You’ll Know That You’re Right.) so of course How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful would catch my attention. From a sensory standpoint, blue is usually associated with sadness. So how can something be so blue, yet big and beautiful?
Well, Florence couldn’t have given this album a better title. This album is a loud, boisterous album. An odyssey. A huge metaphor that represents the tragedy of failing relationships and love lost but through that failure, living and being triumphant. Florence has always been quite the wordsmith, but this album seems bigger on a tonal and lyrical scale.
The album kicks off with “Ship to Wreck”, a song that almost didn’t make the album. Although this song has a bouncy, upbeat tempo, the message is quite dark and destructive. She’s asking herself if she built this relationship just to destroy it. How did things get so bad? What did she say? What did she do?
Then her focus shifts. She gets pissed. REALLY pissed in “What Kind of Man”. While her lover’s feet and planted firmly on the floor she’s “left to dangle at a cruel angle”. She also makes the first reference to blue in this song.
And the title track is just beautiful. When I first heard the horns come in, my durag cape flapped to and fro with the beat (Nah, I seriously wrote this review with my durag cape tied and a Baconator in my hand). In this song, the metaphor is inspired by the LA sky. It’s so big and daunting, yet beautiful. She describes a man “falling from space” out of this sky and landing in earth. Once again, not shying away from the rich metaphors.
Another metaphor for blue here, could be water since she does mention water a lot in her previous works. Much like water this album rises and falls. How Big… varies from calm waters to crashing waves. “Queen of Peace” and “Various Storms and Saints” are those waters settling and becoming calmer. In “Delilah”, they waves crash again. Heavily.
I’d like to make it no secret that this is my favorite song on the album. I’m seriously impressed that a song about waiting on a call from a significant other could morph into a parable of Samson and Dellilah. I should seriously end the review here because I could go on about this song forever. I really could. Like the line about how she’s tearing pillars down or moving “too fast for freedom”. Ok, I’ll stop here.
This album’s problem, if any, is that the BIG moments are few and far between. Outside of the opening tracks, there’s no one BIG moment. Rather, they’re distributed throughout these tracks. They hit you like a crash of a cymbal or a punch to the face rather, then retreat. Once again, imagine waterworks.
If you want to get blue (and it’s about to get blue as hell), look no further than “St. Jude”. St. Jude just so happens to be the Patron Saint of lost causes.
St. Jude, the patron saint of the lost causes
St. Jude, we were lost before she started
St. Jude, we lay in bed as she whipped around us
St. Jude, maybe I’ve always been more comfortable in chaos
Infinite sad faces. Calm waters don’t suit Florence well. She needs chaos. A storm. Coincidentally, Storm St. Jude swept over the U.K. in 2013. But I’m not one who believes in coincidences (P.S. Go back up and watch the “What Kind of Man” video).
The album ends with “Mother”, which continues the line in “Delilah” where she says “and I’m calling for my Mother”. In this song, she asks to become an Autumn tree, shedding away the leaves of her dying relationship. “Mother” ends with two minutes worth of great air guitar material and the album closes.
Overall thoughts of this album? Well it may come as a surprise, but I really love it. I know, you had no clue. This album is a detour from her usual sound, but she channeled her inner blue to make something big and beautiful. It’s a pop album through and through, but this is a prime example that pop albums can have some real artistic merit. This is not only my favorite Florence + Machine album, but it made me a fan. I actually went back to revisit the previous work. Personal pain sucks, and there’s a lot of pain on this album, but it takes a true artist to funnel that into an album and make something beautiful. So bravo, Ms. Welch, this album is indeed beautiful.
Final Grade: 4-5. Instantly in my top 5 of this year.