“I smile, and I smile, and I smile,” once sneered Kirsten Dunst from beneath glazed, listless eyes in ‘Melancholia’, Lars Von Trier’s 2011 film about a newlywed aristocrat catatonic with depression, whose inner sense of impending doom is mirrored in the real world by rolling news reports of a planet on collision course with Earth. Humanity is fucked, but still Dunst’s character, Justine, is made to go through the motions by an unsympathetic family. So she plays along: ambling around the cavernous corridors and opulent gardens of their huge estate in pretty white dresses, suffering in silence, dutifully faking bitter, courteous grins on command.
It’s probably no coincidence that the video to ‘What Kind Of Man’, the first single from Florence + the Machine’s upcoming third album ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful,’ shares the same greying pastel colours and crushing air of apocalypse as Von Trier’s cult movie. “Suppose if you’ve been through something catastrophic, like a storm or an earthquake together, something horrendous… it’d bring you together. But what if they are creating disaster within themselves?” asks Florence Welch in the video, echoing the film’s premise from the passenger seat of an antique car, caressing a lover’s neck between scenes of silent terror: car crashes, passionless sex, eerie hotel rooms filled only with sound of TV reports commenting on landslides and our “constant state of chaos.”
It’s the perfect prelude to a song that, amid a fierce churn of arena-filling guitars and orchestral-pop grandeur, deals with the physical weight of sadness, where even basic human connection can feel like “trying to cross a canyon with a broken limb,” as Welch coos. “You were on the other side, like always, wondering what to do with life,” she sings to her “holy fool” of a lover, complaining at being left to “dangle at a cruel angle” in angry limbo. Despite it all, she holds for him “a fire of devotion that lasts for twenty years.”
Musically, it’s big. Wagnerian backing vocals and horn blasts turn ‘What Kind Of Man’ into a spectacle worthy of her new festival headliner status (Welch is booked to top the bill at a tonne of European festivals this summer, with an appearance on Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage also heavily rumoured). On first listen, it’s no dramatic departure from her last album, 2011’s ‘Ceremonials’ – full of the same Kate Bush bluster, with a powerful, big-lunged chorus to rival that album’s lead single, ‘What The Water Gave Me’. ‘What Kind Of Man’ has more snarl though, given a sense of menace by producer Markus Drav’s chopped-‘n’-screwed vocal effects.
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Between this, the brass-led, symphonic teaser track posted earlier this week and Florence’s description of ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’ – it’s about “how to love in the world rather than trying to escape from it” she wrote in a press release – all signs point to her most expansive full-length yet. Can it eclipse the critically acclaimed ‘Ceremonials’? We’ll find out when it’s released on June 1…