High As Hope is Florence + The Machine’s most introspective album to date. Florence Welch’s signature soaring vocals are the focus, compliments of Emile Haynie’s restrained production, on the group’s fourth studio album. Welch, a powerful pop star, is paired to perfection with a tight backing band and clear sense of aesthetics.
In High As Hope, Welch turns her gaze inward. The frankness in the first words of “Hunger” (“At 17 I started to starve myself”) feels jarring paired with the adult contemporary production, but in other places, Welch’s raw candor makes more sense. “Grace” is an apologetic ballad that’s the most personal Welch has ever been, pleading to the one she’s wronged, “tell me what I can do, I will make it up to you.”
Nostalgia is Welch’s muse throughout High As Hope. A tale of post-performance high and the first single off the album, “Sky Full of Song” is a restrained mini-anthem. “South of London” is another rousing trip through the past, a fond recollection of youth’s bad decisions. Both tracks are a few shades less dramatic than singles of the past like “Dog Days Are Over” or “Shake It Out,” but strive for a similar stadium-sized affect.
“Big God” is a standout on the album, the most theatrical track, with Kamasi Washington horns to match Welch’s Siouxsie Sioux howl. The song has a humorous streak with lines like, “you’ll always be my favorite ghost” a dark edge from co-writer, Jamie xx. “The End of Love” is high drama, but one of the more forgettable songs on the album, especially preceding the lovely “No Choir.” It’s a stellar pop song, a measured and simple ending to the album.
There’s an ode to Patti Smith (“Patricia”), Welch’s font of inspiration. There’s a song that starts as a humble, folky stomp that blossoms into a sweeping orchestral moment (“100 Years”). Florence + The Machine deliver on the formulas that have proven to work well in the past, but are still exciting upon first listen.
High As Hope is a true pop album. Not as stylish as How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (2015), it expresses a more mature, unhurried tempo for the pop outfit. The newfound lyrical self-analysis would benefit from the same baroque antics that have made Florence + The Machine such an interesting fixture on pop charts. But with age comes warmth and introspection, and both are demonstrated beautifully here by Welch and her steadfast collaborators.
Notable Tracks: “100 Years” | “Big God” | “No Choir”