When Florence and the Machine’s debut album dropped in 2009, the name meant little to people outside of underground London clubs. But in six years, the band has attained unprecedented heights of musical excellence and traction in the mainstream industry. “How Big, How Blue, How Wonderful” the experimental group’s third record will drop sometime in 2015 and looks promising based on single “What Kind of Man.”
The single, which dropped in early February, has the edgy feel of 2009’s single “Kiss with a Fist” and the ethereal whimsy of 2011’s “Spectrum” and “Heartlines.” The group’s aesthetic is hard to describe succinctly—the closest I can approach is Kate Bush meets Patti Smith. “Lungs” and “Ceremonials” are decadently theatrical albums featuring “gratuitous harp” as my friend Jedrik Chao would say and a heavy dose of mythical song writing. “Lungs” as an album was an earthy tribute to themes of love and natural beauty, whereas “Ceremonials” delved into the darker corners of humanity exposing betrayal, death and intense pleasure. Both albums are excellent and hold their own. Whereas “Lungs” is the flight machinations of a naïve young woman, “Ceremonials” is the impassioned emotional torrent of a woman growing up. The progression of the group from a small indie act performing in cramped London clubs to the global sensations headlining the Governor’s Ball in 2015, having their music featured in TV shows such as “Gossip Girl” and writing music for Hollywood productions such as “Snow White and the Huntsmen” and “Twilight: Eclipse” is evident from the progression of themes in their two albums. The innocence of “Lungs” fades entirely in “Ceremonials.”
Where that leaves “How Big, How Blue, How Wonderful” is a mystery. The single “What Kind of Man” leaves a strong impression that the new album will be bolder, more rock ‘n’ roll and more direct. “Lungs” and “Ceremonials” relied heavily on metaphoric songwriting and vagaries. “What Kind of Man” has no trace of ambiguity. It’s a song about an abusive relationship and power dynamics. One line stands out as particularly poignant, “to let me dangle at a cruel angle/ Oh my feet don’t touch the floor/Sometimes you’re half in and then you’re half out/ But never close the door.” The music video hammers in this point as most of it depicts Florence Welch—lead singer—being passed around a circle of men who grope and grab her as she struggles to get away. If it sounds weird—it is, but you can’t look away, the choreography of the scenes is amazing.
The single is the same tour de force that all of the group’s music has been. Dramatic, soaring a cappella vocals from Welch create a dramatic scene at the beginning of the song. About a minute in, a crushing guitar solo comes in with tambourine, drums and background vocals pumping up the intensity of the song and turning what seemed like a soulful ode into a dance floor anthem. Okay, maybe not a UConn frat party dance floor anthem, but rather a cool kids at Gov. Ball type anthem. The intricate harmonies of the single give Welch’s rough and tumble vocals body and substance, where her voice lends the song a special poignancy.
For those of you who are beginners to the Flo-fandom, I have a couple of suggestions. Start listening to “Lungs” first to get a feel for the group’s aesthetic. It is very whimsical and a truly fun album to listen to—I spent a good chunk of my senior year of high school listening to this album with my cohort of friends. Tracks “Cosmic Love,” “Drumming Song” and “You Got the Love” are excellent starting points. “Swimming” and “Howl” are two of the best tracks on the album and perfectly capture the wild spirit of the group’s two albums. “Dog Days Are Over”—the song that achieved the most fame—is a delightful tune, but tried and true Flo fans will agree it is one of the weaker tracks on “Lungs.” If you like the music, the music videos are a much watch. Everyone makes such a fuss about Beyonce’s choreography, but wait until you see Flo’s. “Drumming Song” has a phenomenal dance sequence that puts “Single Ladies” to shame.
As for “Ceremonials” a solid listen through is essential once you finish “Lungs.” Tracks “What the Water Gave Me,” “Only if For a Night” and “Bedroom Hymns” are fabulously powerful tracks showcasing some of Welch’s best vocal work and the symphonic quality of the supporting melody and harmony is captivating. If these tracks don’t make you want to dance wildly in a mythical glen, then you’re listening wrong.