Florence and the Machine "How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

Florence Welch spins thistles of turmoil into a quilt of golden bombastic pop songs.


What does turmoil sound like? It’s big, and blue, and beautiful when translated by Florence Welch. Following the release of her band’s second album Ceremonials, Welch experienced what she referred to as “a bit of a nervous breakdown.” It’s not surprising considering the dark nature of that album. Its central theme was death, particularly watery death. Although it was an attempt to decipher a transcendent state, Welch got caught in a whirlpool of dark moods. In the year following its release Welch and the band took a year off. It was during this chaotic period of confusion and apparent heartbreak that she began the writing and recording How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful.


Supported by her band and producer Markus Dravs, Welch focused her energy on the difficult process of living, and the sorrowful effects of picking through the vestiges of love. Always a literate writer, Welch builds her reality on metaphor and allegory with an emphasis on biblical references. “Delilah” finds her time traveling to cavort with the Samson’s deceitful lover. “St. Jude” is a plea for help from the patron saint of lost causes. The video features the singer acting out Dante’s “The Inferno.” Dark stuff for sure, but this is, essentially, Welch’s forte – the great trauma. Her pain is dramatic and extreme – taking her to the edge of hell. “Mother” finds her begging to be turned into a bird of prey in order to survive her earthly ordeals. Although Dravs forbade her to use water metaphors, Welch manages to sneak in “Ship To Wreck” and several other mentions of the drowning liquid.


In order to convey her distraught emotions Welch pours out her rage, sorrow, and tainted joy with vocals that soar between power and restraint. Dravs’ production matches the passion of her vocals. Strings, trumpets, and flutes unfurl like supporting banners in Welch’s parade of fevered songs. He’s concocted the perfect mix of organic instrumentation and electronica, going quiet when Welch is thoughtful, breaking lose when she is anguished.  Because she is so very good at it I suspect Florence Welch will continue to explore the darker nature of emotions, but it’s good to see her move from black to blue in a big, beautiful way.  


Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix Host)