Florence + The Machine – ‘High As Hope’ review

'Stripped of excess, Flo's truth shines on the safe but subtle album number four'

Florence Welch has been very open how recent years have seen her kick the bottle, the excesses and the ‘two day parties’ that filled the void between touring life and reality. Here on album number four, you sense that she’s finally found comfort at home.

Her usual wuthering whimsy on ‘South London Forever’ is anchored now the modesty of returning to where she came from. Rather than a celestial romanticism, she looks back on being “young and drunk and stumbling in The Joiners Arms like foals unsteady on their feet / with the art students and boys in bands / high on E and holding hands with somebody I just met”. Focussing on the simple things she admits “it doesn’t get better than this”.

You’d never have thought of Welch as embracing the notion that less is more, but that seems to run through the core of ‘High As Hope’. The first taster of the record came with the star-reaching but relatively subdued ‘Sky Full Of Song’. It’s another anthem of aching yearning, but this time for the charm of the song alone and not the usual excess of melodrama. In stripping back the elements, you believe her without being clobbered by the kitchen sink. Lead single proper ‘Hunger’ then struts and thrusts with the bombast that has won Welch so many hearts, but the bellowing is now on the right side of the Brian Blessed scale.

There’s a Bond theme-like pomp and swagger to ‘Big God’, but sadly lacking the usual emotional release. ‘Grace’ meanwhile takes it back to the essentials; just Flo’s soul, memory and a piano. A tribute to her sister as she responds to her family’s notion that the world of music would be too “dangerous”, she bares her voice as her only means of survival as confesses that this is “the only thing I’ve ever had any faith in”.

‘Patricia’ rushes with that same arena-ready indie-pop bluster that sits alongside the likes of ‘What Kind Of Man’ and ‘Dog Days Are Over’, and you can immediately envisage the extra floor toms being brought out for Florence to skip barefoot across the stage with abandon for ‘100 Years’, but by the album’s end you sense she’s paid no mind to the shackles of expectation. “It’s hard to write about being happy because the older I get, I find that happiness is an extremely uneventful subject”, she pines on closer ‘No Choir’, while admitting that no grand gesture or pomposity is required to voice the solace of everything being just so.

More organic and natural, this is Florence laid bare. Free of too many bells, whistles and a contrived sense of scale, she’s free to be herself more so than ever before. Stripped to the bare bones of her soul and the sentiment, her truth shines – and there’s a beauty in that. The only thing holding it back is a lack of risk, but there’s still so much comfort in the familiar.

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