Florence + The Machine, an English indie rock band, released its fourth studio album in three years on June 29. As poetic as it is personal, “High As Hope” is a peek into lead singer Florence Welch’s life — and more intimately — her mind.
The album opens with “June,” a raw, though gratifying, glance into Welch’s head. The track sets the tone for “High As Hope,” with haunting melodies and minimal instruments, so the listener can focus on Welch’s vocals. The track can also be seen as a soft, LGBTQ anthem as June is Pride Month. Some of her lyrics attest to this, for example, the lines “In those heaviest days in June” and “When love became an act of defiance” could be references to queer love and the “defiance” of heterosexual norms.
The tragedy of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Florida occurred during Florence + the Machine’s 2016 tour, and Welch sings “Woke up in Chicago and the sky turned black,” a possible reference to the shooting as Welch was in Illinois at the time. Though raw and beautiful, “June” is most one of the more somber tracks on the album.
“Hunger” is the lead single for “High As Hope,” and is quite possibly one of the most delicate songs on the album. The track explores Welch’s teenage past and opens rather abruptly by discussing her difficult past living with an eating disorder with the line, “At 17, I started to starve myself.” In an interview with BBC Radio 1, Welch commented on the meaning behind the song, crediting today’s youth.
“[The youth is] just so switched on and engaged and they’re not gonna be told how they should look and behave,” Welch said. “I was really lost as a teenager … so I feel really inspired by the young women I see today.”
The song is not only a testament to the strengths of the modern-day youth but also to being body positive.
For university students, “South London Forever” is probably the most relatable song. Welch reminisces on her own university days of experimentation and exploration of herself, drugs, alcohol and her artistic endeavors. The song is wonderfully poetic, with phrases like “I have seen the fields aflame” and “there’s a special kind of sadness that seems to come with spring.”
“Big God” is the fourth track and the third single from “High As Hope.” Welch said in an interview with Rolling Stone that the song is about “obviously, an unfillable hole in the soul … but mainly about someone not replying to my text.” Her witty interview answer is satisfying but her even wittier musical response to a text left on read is “Big God.”
Welch laments on the messages she never got a reply to and being kept “up at night,” though she claims the offender will “always be my favorite ghost.” Full of self-doubt and slight curiosity, the artist wonders if this is normal and then affirms, “Well, Jesus Christ, it hurts.”
The first single, “Sky Full of Song” summarizes Welch’s struggles living in America while her family is in the United Kingdom.
“I was screaming at my father and you were screaming at me,” Welch sings. “And I could feel your anger from way across the sea.”
Perhaps the most poetic song, “Sky Full of Song” has a gorgeous pre-chorus, with lines like, “Grab me by my ankles, I’ve been flying for too long” and “I couldn’t hide from the thunder in a sky full of song.”
“High As Hope” begins to close with “100 Years,” a track full of gorgeous vocals and a haunting harp melody. The track covers a multitude of themes, from love, to pain, to heartbreak and rebirth. The most moving line, arguably, is “Pulled out all your stitches, hubris is a bitch.”
Florence + The Machine’s fourth studio album exceeded expectations, lyrically and instrumentally. “High As Hope” provides a space for Welch to reminisce on her past, evaluate her current situation and emotions and she does so in a very intimate way, inviting listeners and fans to explore her mind with her.