Wall Of Sound
Killing the festival circuit this summer, Florence + the Machine are zig-zagging around the world, delivering energized show after show surrounding their latest and third studio album, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. The album captures Florence Welch’s distinctive vocals; catchy, sometimes offbeat grooves; and honest, reflective lyrics, all cloaked in a wall of sound. Rocketing to the top of the charts in both the U.K. and U.S., Florence + the Machine lay it all bare in a way only they know how.
Welch has a huge voice up for any challenge. “Delilah” includes a vocal line wandering in its own nonsensical pattern, interrupted by punchy, rhythmic lines. The breathy, ethereal opening of “What Kind of Man” contrast the tonal screaming once the rest of the band joins for the remainder of the tune. A penchant for delivering musical lines at the top of her lungs benefits tracks like “Queen of Peace,” which explores timbres in the midrange and then up into those higher tones during the chorus, and “Third Eye,” which dances repeatedly around the edges of screaming versus singing.
“Long & Lost” starts so calm and quiet against a low key guitar, it almost doesn’t sound like Welch. The ballad “Various Storms” shows a lower, slower, meandering emotional exploration of the inherent pain in “But still you stumble, feet give way / Outside the world seems a violent place.” “Some things you let go in order to live / While all around you, the buildings sway.” The intensity of her voice rising and falling with the emotional phrasing of the lyrics burrows right into the soul. It’s not subtle, but it gets the job done.
The structure from track to track follows a familiar pattern: introduction, instrumental hit into the driving body of the song characterized by a lot of instrumental power, large enough to support Welch’s gigantic, rich voice. But there’s always a twist; they don’t all sound the same. For example, the introduction to “Mother” features woodblocks, other hand percussion and reverb guitar sprinkled in, whereas the intro to “Third Eye” is more electronic and echoey.
“How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” begins with a quieter vocal delivery of “Between the crucifix and the Hollywood sign we decided to get hurt. / Now there’s a few things we have to burn.” An energetic string riff then plunges the track into the main groove, complete with guitar, drums, trumpet and a distinct ‘60s vibe (also found on tracks like “Caught”), before pulling back again into a light pastiche of sound and Welch’s rumination on the title in ethereal tones. A lengthy cinematic trumpet fanfare then dissolves into a calming string section, playing the track out. Hollywood indeed.
It’s dramatic. It’s rich. It’s intense. It’s dark, driving and unapologetic. It grooves. It’s Florence Welch’s voice and energy. It’s emblematic of Florence + the Machine; few bands can deliver this much sound artfully, with purpose and intention. Pointless to fight when Florence + the Machine get listeners in their grip, it’s best to just get carried away in the wave of sound. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful.