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Before Florence + The Machine released their fourth studio album, High As Hope, the group’s central force and vocalist Florence Welch opened up about the record in an interview with the Guardian. “Maybe I’m trying to hold on to normalcy,” Welch professed, in the same aptly-titled piece where she asks herself, “Did I dream too big?” These statements come ironically on the heels of three previous No. 1 album releases.
“Maybe because being onstage has become normal, the pockets of peace seem really wild. But I treasure them,” she says, attempting to channel her focus on those pockets throughout the new record.
Three years earlier, on the band’s third studio LP, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful Welch sang despairingly with a bleating vibrato; belting songs of heartbreak and torment, building entire worlds of reflective, romantic embrace. In the time since, Welch admits she cracked. Looking to alcohol more than ever before, Welch saw destructive substances as an antidote, a means to escape the world she so quickly rose to fame in. The band’s frontwoman continues, “the partying was about me not wanting to deal with the fact my life had changed, not wanting to come down,” she explained in to the Guardian. “It always felt like something had picked me up and thrown me around various rooms and houses, then gone “boom!’”
So, Welch sobered up, and perhaps with direct author intent, though maybe subconsciously, Welch has stripped her new music of its chorus and orchestral elements, as well as its allegorical devices, too. In doing so she’s echoing the sentiment that those few and far between pockets of normalcy are her most grounding moments. Welch is the most honest and endearingly human she’s been with her audience yet in her writing on the band’s new full length. She’s even opening up about her biggest wounds, revealing she had an eating disorder at the age of 17 on “Hunger.”
After a thorough listen through High As Hope, it becomes clear that earlier in Welch’s career she had been dancing with her demons, even making friends with them, but on High As Hope it’s evident that she’s making amends with their presence in her life. It’s a record about coming to terms with fame, the sobering reality of her friends building their lives around her; of humility, though this is not to say that the “Addicted to Love” singer recognizes these feelings will ever go away. She’s welcoming the daunting dichotomies that fame brings into her life, with the hopes that as she grows older she manages them better; a theme relevant on a universal artistic scale. On the Jamie xx-assisted “Big God,” one of Welch’s biggest collaborations to date, the old Florence dances with religion. The album’s final song “No Choir” shimmers with Miike Snow frontman Andrew Wyatt crooning, “It’s hard to write about being happy because the older I get I find that happiness is an extremely uneventful subject.” It might not be rich in its story-telling devices like her earlier music’s tales, but it is her, an endearingly honest grappling with life and livelihood and the sheer complexity of living, and there is certainly something hopeful to take away from that.