Florence + The Machine: How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

howbighowbluehowbeautifulThis is a bit of a weird entry point for me for Florence + The Machine. I’d heard and been intrigued by parts of 2011’s Ceremonials…I think I even gave it a few spins in the dark, dark early days of 2012…but never quite worked up the momentum around it to commit to giving it a proper review. So then this follow-up album got released in May of this year, right about the time I started peppering my “to listen to” lists with more new stuff than I’d been used to. And so here I am, face to face with this big fat meh-burger of an album, not quite sure what to say about it.

Honestly, the best story I can tell about it is that I was listening to it the other day, and My Baby calls out from another room, “Is this Florence + The Machine?” And that’s not even a good story because you don’t know My Baby well enough to be surprised by that.

Or I could go with the album’s similarities to the last one I reviewed, Cop Shoot Cop’s Release. They’re really nothing alike…they just happened to get into my queue back to back and they both sound much better in earbuds than in overear headphones or speakers.

Okay, fine, let’s really write this thing. The main thing is Florence Welch’s voice, which is strong without being strident and emotive without being fey. She’s got dynamic and frequency range and rocks it over some cool, sometimes cryptic, lyrics. I think there’s a real band here…not a bedroom iPad project, though everything’s produced to sound like it was done on an iPad. There’s synths and horns made to sound like synths and drums made to sound like a drum machine and okay that probably is a drum machine doing the tambo on “Queen Of Peace.”

Everything’s pretty well-crafted, though there’s a tendency to meandering at times. The band hits a variety of tempi and keys. It’s competent. It’s distinct…My Baby can recall the band’s name after having only heard them briefly(?). And yet, despite the lush instrumentation and Welch’s voice, it still rings uninspired. It’s like too much Millenial hipster disaffected coffee shop background music, designed to signify some kind of in-crowd cred without actually snapping you out of your beard-trimming reverie.

There isn’t a bad song on here, and just over half of the 11 tracks are Like. “Caught” gets knocked down to Dislike not because the song is bad but because there’s a drone-y instrument in there that sounds like a fluorescent light, a sound that drives me batty.

When the band rocks, as they do primarily at the top of the album, they’re strongest. Rick Springfield guitars on “What Kind Of Man” and Van Morrison vocal stylings on “Queen Of Peace” are this modern band’s 70’s and 80’s touchpoints. I also hear some True Colors-era Cyndi Lauper. When they slow it down, though, I don’t get angry, I just get bored. I don’t think I could hum “Various Storms & Saints” or “Long & Lost” for you even while they’re playing.

If they’d kept this to the six Likes and then maybe”Queen Of Peace” I’d probably be tempted to push this up a half-clown. This collection as is, though…I’ve enjoyed these listens…but I’m done with this flavor now.

Like: “Ship To Wreck,” “What Kind Of Man,” “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful,” “Delilah,” “St. Jude,” “Mother”
Meh: “Queen Of Peace,” “Various Storms & Saints,” “Long & Lost,” “Third Eye”
Dislike: “Caught”
Song Notes: After the jump

  1. Ship To Wreck –
  2. What Kind Of Man – when the guitars come in it’s very Rick Springfield. And he has a song called “What Kind Of Fool Am I?” so it’s kinda like Florence Welch is Rick Springfield. Have you ever seen them together?
  3. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful – “between a crucifix and the hollywood sign we decided to get hurt”
  4. Queen Of Peace – reminiscent of Van Morrison’s “Gloria”. This is almost Like, but it’s too long, so she ends up sitting on that one note (“Suddenly I’m oooooooooooooooooovercome”) that she holds on each line of the chorus for an altogether too long of a time.
  5. Various Storms & Saints – I barely even notice this unless I’m really paying attention. Very slow and broody
  6. Delilah – back to the rockers and I like it again.
  7. Long & Lost – there’s a buzzy sound in this song, too, though it’s used much more sparingly
  8. Caught – buzz like a fluorescent light is on
  9. Third Eye – I have in my notes that I’m considering making this Like. And I do like where she belts it out and the falsetto part. But that “ooh ah ooh ah” part is super annoying and the whole thing gets a bit repetitive, which makes me think it’s actually closer to Dislike.
  10. St. Jude – starts off great and you think it’s going to go to built to awesomeness, but it bogs down after the first chorus. still ends up at Like.
  11. Mother – they end strong

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