After straddling the line between indie-rock darlings and future pop stars for two albums, Florence + The Machine have overwhelmingly chosen pop on their new album "How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful" (Republic). Not surprisingly, the album also overwhelmingly favors Florence over The Machine.
Singer Florence Welch is front and center throughout the album, her big, distinctive vocals dominating every song, essentially from start to finish. That strategy makes for an interesting conundrum, though. All that Florence makes these songs instantly recognizable on radio, as her booming voice can't help but stand out from all her competitors. However, it makes listening to the album as a whole a bit of a slog, because there isn't much change in emotion. It's incredibly intense pretty much the entire time, which makes for a pretty draining experience.
That's not to say there aren't incredible songs here. "Ship to Wreck" is classic, morning-after questioning. ("Did I drink too much? Am I losing touch? Did I build a ship to wreck?" wonders Florence.) On "Delilah," she adopts a bit of hip-hop swagger that zips in and out, as the musical styles pile up and the arrangement grows more complex. The "ooh-wah-ooh-wah-woahs" that open the lovely "Third Eye" give it a sort of new-millennium girl-group feel that is sure to stop Top 40 radio listeners dead in their tracks every time the song comes on. If that's the Florence + The Machine goal, they have clearly surpassed it here.
In some ways, "How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful" plays more like a greatest-hits collection than an album. The songs seem more designed to exist in their own space than next to one another. It is all so full-on that the simple guitar-driven ballad "Various Storms & Saints" feels like a welcome break from all the gorgeous wailing.
Florence + The Machine are clearly looking to take their popularity to the next level here and they seemed destined to succeed simply through sheer force of will.
FLORENCE + THE MACHINE
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"How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful"
THE GRADE B+
BOTTOM LINE Embracing her belting, melodramatic, over-the-top pop-star nature