Album review: Florence and the Machine’s ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’

Smith Galtney

Three and a half stars

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

After two blustering albums that established her as something of a 21st-century Kate Bush—an outsized pop diva with a penchant for high-fashion theatrics and Shakespearian melodrama—Florence Welch strips things down a bit with the rather deceivingly titled How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. She’s still got an operatic, bleeding heart. She still wails like a jilted banshee left stranded on the moors. But this might be the leanest-sounding album you’ll ever hear that summons the spirits of St. Jude, Delilah, Persephone and the Virgin Mary, plus “Various Storms & Saints,” to borrow one song’s title.

Produced by Markus Dravs, the man behind Björk’s Homogenic (a Florence influence, of course), and featuring brass arrangement by Will Gregory of Goldfrapp fame, Big certainly piles on the bloat. Opener “Ship to Wreck” is an orgy of water imagery (“Here comes a killer whale … thrashing the covers off, has me by its teeth”), while the title track signs off with prolonged orchestral fanfare. Yet Welch’s commanding presence—not just that sonorous voice, but also her tight sense of rhythm and melody—somehow keeps it all grounded.

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