High as Hope is the fourth studio album by band Florence and the Machine, fronted by talented vocalist and musician Florence Welch.
The band rose to fame with their debut album Lungs almost a decade ago, and their last studio album was released in 2015, followed by a successful tour, but the beginning conception of High as Hope started not long after. The album is vaguely more optimistic than the previous ones, perhaps owed partly to the fact that Welch has recently given up on alcohol and drugs and has particularly aimed to create a sense of accessible vulnerability on the album that listeners will be able to relate to.
TRACK ONE: JUNE
June was the first song written for High as Hope, as Florence Welch almost immediately re-entered the studio after finishing tour for the band’s previous album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, and coincidentally it also became the first track on the new album. This first song is perhaps not as outstandingly orchestral as one might expect from Florence and the Machine, the band being known for their theatrical instrumentation and Welch’s strong vocals. Instead, the opening track allows us to hear Welch strip back her vocals and slow it down, introducing the mood for the rest of the album. However, this makes the song no less stunning as it is still both sweeping and breath-taking, though it does still carry a hint of the classic Florence and the Machine extravagance as it brilliantly melts into a more euphoric hook with the repeated lyrics “hold on to each other”.
TRACK TWO: HUNGER
The opening lyrics to Hunger are explicitly personal as Welch begins by discussing a previous eating disorder she dealt with as a teenager — “At 17, I started to starve myself”. Despite being nervous about including something so deep and personal in her music, Welch took it in stride and the action not only became therapeutic for the artist, but it also set in motion the repeated reference to the metaphorical hunger for love that builds the rest of the song. These lyrics fit on top of a steady drum beat and grand piano chords that kick in at the first chorus, and here is where the somber start to the song begins to morph into a more optimistic and spirited tune about the connection between people as Welch muses that we’re all searching for the same thing. Optimism laces the song with the mention of the “vibrant youth” who “make a fool of death with [their] beauty” and their drive to change and thrive in the unknown world around them, which Welch has commented on in an interview:
It’s also a celebration of how much I see young people changing things, like, “No, I wanna look this way.” They’re just so switched on and engaged and they’re not gonna be told how they should look and behave. I was really lost when I was a teenager, I was really confused and sad, so I feel really inspired by the young women I see today.
TRACK THREE: SOUTH LONDON FOREVER
In the third track on the album, Florence Welch looks back on her youth and her time spent in London and in art college. Whilst the cliche title and basic premise of the song may sound like a promise of sweet and heartfelt nostalgia, which could be said to be felt in the soft opening instrumentation of the song that is far from the usual intensity of Florence and the Machine, some deeper themes are explored such as allusions to drinking, drugs and the worrying nature of fleeting and lost time. Some of Welch’s signature belching peeks through her vocals as the song climbs towards a climax of the lyrics “And everything I ever did / Was just another way to scream your name”. Strong emotion is similarly expressed over a gorgeous array of backing vocals and harmonies as Welch begins to ponder how things can be lost through time with the melancholy lines “Do I have to let it go?” and “And there’s a special kind of sadness that seems to come with spring”, perhaps signalling the singer’s discomfort with a realisation that change is often out of one’s control and having to deal with a past that no longer exists.
TRACK FOUR: BIG GOD
Big God was the third song released prior to the full album drop. Welch describes the song as being about “an unfillable hole in the soul” but also “about someone not replying to [her] text”. The grand and religious metaphor of the “Big God” symbolises someone Welch hoped could be capable of handling all of her overflowing and large emotions when she didn’t not know how to or want to deal with them herself, most significantly in the aftermath of a relationship breakup. The intense imagery is mirrored musically with a fierce piano playing in the background and Welch’s own deep and powerful notes as she delivers the impassioned song. Welch confesses in her lyrics that she is being kept awake by the knowledge that the person she loves is ‘ghosting’ her and refers to her muse as her “favourite ghost”. In an interview she described her experience of being ghosted:
Big God was written about that feeling when someone has no replied to your text, the modern phenomenon of ‘ghosting’ which is one of my favourite words but not my favourite feeling. I was describing it to someone and they said to me “you need a big god”, as if the need in me were so cavernous it would take something enormous to fill it. Probably something bigger than a text message.
The song ends with Welch urging someone, perhaps a divine presence, to “shower [their] affection” and offers herself up to be consumed for a greater purpose with some dramatic lurches in her vocals.
TRACK FIVE: SKY FULL OF SONG
Sky Full Of Song was the first song to be released from High as Hope and is about finding the balance between highs and lows in which you are able to relax and breathe. The lyrics “Grab me by my ankles, I’ve been flying for too long / I couldn’t hide from the thunder in a sky full of song” could suggest that Welch was so caught up in her career and performing that she became almost detached from reality and lived in a dream world, but that living in such ecstasy can never be forever and that lows, symbolised by the thunder, are unavoidable. Welch has confessed herself that:
Sometimes when you are performing you get so high, it’s hard to know how to come down. There is this feeling of being cracked open, rushing endlessly outwards and upwards, and wanting somebody to hold you still, bring you back to yourself. It’s an incredible, celestial, but somehow lonely feeling.
TRACK SIX: GRACE
Grace, just like Hunger, is painstakingly personal as Welch pens an apology to her younger sister, asking for forgiveness for her past chaotic behaviour. The song is made up of melancholy piano playing that is covered by the somber tones of Welch’s apologetic singing and the choir-like backing vocals that break out during the heart-felt chorus in which the singer tells her sister that she is “so loved”. Welch also delves into her problems with drugs, apologising for ruining her sister’s birthday because she was high on acid and hallucinating that “All the walls were melting and there were mermaids everywhere / Hearts flew from my hands and I could see people’s feelings”. The entire song is heartfelt and sympathetic, right down to the dainty playing of the piano, and provides a glimpse into the vocalist’s journey into greater maturity and all-round growth.
TRACK SEVEN: PATRICIA
Patricia is also dedicated to a real person, except this time it is not a family member — it’s punk artist Patti Smith. It’s a livelier than Grace, especially as the pre-chorus kicks in with the drums with the catchy lyrics “You told me all the doors are open to the believer / I believe her, I believe her, I believe her”, but the song is no less of a love letter to the artist who helped to revolutionize the female place in the male-dominated music industry. Welch expresses that Patti Smith has been her “North Star” — a bright light helping to guide her through the chaos — and that she has helped her to see what beauty there is in the “cold world”.
TRACK EIGHT: 100 YEARS
100 Years is the first song since Ceremonials, Florence and the Machine‘s second studio album, to prominently feature the harp which can be heard flourishing in the chorus along with Florence Welch’s signature dramatic vocals, giving the song a flair that is perhaps the closest the album comes to the extravagance and theatricality commonly associated with Florence and the Machine‘s music. This flair is carried on to an instrumental interlude about halfway through the song and is followed by more exuberant vocals from Welch and classic imagery such as “The youth bleed in the square / And women raged as old men fumbled and cried”. The song sees Welch tired with how difficult her relationship is and that she has to “hold too tightly” and “pray” to keep it from breaking.
TRACK NINE: THE END OF LOVE
The introduction to The End Of Love is the longest introduction on the album and features a minute-long stretch of pensive violins that are sure to get you in your feelings before the minor piano chords even start to be played. The song begins with a vulnerable energy as Welch confesses “I feel nervous in a way that can’t be named / I dreamt last night of a sign that read, ‘The end of love’”. Welch has explained the the song was written during a time of some family issues and that “it was about dealing with love in a different way; perhaps not love in a romantic sense, but the end of love that came from a place of lack or need”. Thus the song is about learning to love wholly and not just as a replacement to a feeling of emptiness in one’s life as she begins to learn to let everything “wash away” after falling so far down a spiral.
TRACK TEN: NO CHOIR
No Choir is the shortest song on the album and a self-deprecating anthem in which Welch describes her state as she leaves behind her twenties – what she categorises as her wild years – but addresses how without this chaos that she has become so accustomed to she finds it difficult to gain inspiration for her creativity as it has so often relied on her ability to thrive on her own recklessness. This is explicit in the very first line of the song as she expresses that “it’s hard to write about being happy”. The song perhaps also mirrors the change that this album sees in Florence and the Machine‘s style of music as their music has been slowed down and could be considered less grand and theatrical than their previous albums. The change in both Welch’s state of mind and thus Florence and the Machine‘s music is recognised as she sings that “there would be no grand choirs to sing / No chorus could come in”. However, this song does end the album on an optimistic note as Welch expresses that she is indeed happier and in a calmer state of mind, as she sings that “I did it all for myself”, and the song becomes about the idea that happiness does not have to be loud and majestic – it can be quiet and that is enough.
Featured image taken by Vincent Haycock/courtesy of Florence and the Machine.