Florence has always been associated with themes of death, escape and glorious flights of fancy. But How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (HB, HB, HB), as the name suggests, is an attempt to live within this big, blue, beautiful world rather than escaping it. We see a new, perhaps a more mature, Florence finally hit by the whirlwind of emotions swirling around her, letting it burst out with every thumping rhythm of her music and every heaving bellow of her lungs.
The album begins with one of the clear stand-out singles, Ship to Wreck, in which she sings “did I drink too much/ am I losing touch/ did I build this ship to wreck?” as she tries to deal with hellish internal turmoil. In What Kind of Man, we find her in a purgatorial relationship with an indecisive lover who, with a single kiss, can “inspire a fire of devotion that lasts for 20 years.” HB HB HB is an attempt to reconcile her polarities through a heavenly ascension that comes through harmony with oneself. The album feels personal and has the unique capacity of engaging the listener on an emotional level in a way her previous records couldn’t.
Stylistically, the music is a lot more classic rock and soul-inspired, as we find immediately once the guitar riffs in What Kind of Man kicks in. The result is an album that feels more organic and grounded, purged of her signature aerial, flighty feel. However, rest assured that Florence Welch is as histrionic as ever; she still wields those powerful vocal chords and razor-sharp songwriting skills, and the effect is amplified as it remains grounded and relatable. She seems to now understand the need to punctuate histrionics with mellow breathers, the need for restraint as well as grand displays of vocal prowess.
That’s not to say HB, HB, HB is without its missteps. Like most brilliant artists at their creative peak, we also see cracks of hubristic overarching ambition in Mother, an unjustifiably long and meandering track, especially considering the sonic mishmash adds up to little more than a minute-long stretch of occasional howling piercing through waves of static. Diehard fans might be a tad disappointed at first, but trust in her, give it time. Like good wine, the album and Florence, only get better with age.