When Florence + The Machine’s junior album dropped on May 29, 2015, I was unprepared. Perhaps it was the frenzy of working my crazy fast food job four days per week that kept me out of the loop. Whatever the case, I couldn’t wait to give the album a listen.
“How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” is Flo + The Machine’s third studio album. I’ve followed their music since I heard about their debut, “Lungs.” A musically-inclined friend told me I “had to hear this new baroque pop stuff,” and I was sold. I wasn’t entirely sure what baroque pop music entailed, but I’d be damned if I wasn’t eager to find out.
I loved “Lungs” with a passion. Ditto for this group’s second album, “Ceremonials.” I find that many bands and artists go through a sophomore slump of sorts after hitting it big with their debut. Flo + The Machine, however, defied the odds. “Ceremonials” delivered just as big a hit as their debut. Though fans feared the group developing a different sound after they released “What The Water Gave Me,” their first single from “Ceremonials,” those fears disappeared when “Shake It Out” dropped. The latter had the familiar sound Flo + The Machine fans have come to love: a hearty mix of new-agey chimes and lead singer Florence Welch’s vocals with rock and pop music instrumentals.
“How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” also has this trademark sound, yet the tracks give off a darker, more somber vibe. Many of Welch’s lyrics deal with death and loss in her familiar lyrical style, which often draws upon religion and folklore. Some tracks sound less pop and more alternative rock than ever before. “What Kind of Man,” the second single released from the album, is reminiscent of classic rock with heavy guitar and intense horn instrumentals. “Delilah,” another track released as a single, has a decidedly dark feeling, with Welch’s vocals layered in a haunting arrangement in the chorus.
Yet the album starts on an upbeat note and a few tracks deliver the same vibe. “Ship to Wreck,” the opening song, sounds like a follow-up track off of Flo + The Machine’s debut album. I’m not quite certain if the thread of universal similarity, in both sound and emotion emitted by this group’s music, is a pro or con. Of course, if you’re not fond of Welch’s weighty voice or the ethereal, Wonderland aesthetic of this group’s music, this album probably won’t be your cup of tea.
My two favorite tracks from this album stand out in my mind as different from the rest of Flo + The Machine’s discography: “St. Jude,” a chilling, quiet ballad and “Third Eye,” an upbeat, hopeful song. “Third Eye” is definitely an earworm; after blasting the song two or three times a few weeks ago, I could not get it out of my head. The poignant lyrics read like a one-way conversation between the subject of the song, who wants to heal her broken heart yet struggles to alter her actions and feelings:
“But your pain is a tribute / The only thing you let hold you / Wear it now like a mantle / Always there to remind you / I am the same, I’m the same / I’m trying to change / I am the same, I’m the same / I’m trying to change…”
“St. Jude,” on the flipside, is the quietest song I’ve ever heard from Flo + The Machine’s repertoire. Welch’s voice is dulled to a soft whisper and the music is slow and haunting. It’s a beautiful ballad, yet it feels rather out-of-place on this album, perhaps because it is so starkly different than any of the other tracks.
Ultimately, I enjoyed listening to “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful.” With few exceptions, it delivers the same sound Flo + The Machine fans have come to love. If this album is your first foray into this band’s music, though, I’d recommend giving their debut album a listen first. “Lungs” is a lighter, more playful example of their music, and I think it is undoubtedly more universally appealing.