Florence + The Machine “How Big How Blue How Beautiful”
Florence + The Machine
“How Big How Blue How Beautiful”
In it’s best moments pop music bestows on you the feeling to be part of something bodacious, something that is bigger and more important, then everything else that otherwise happens in your small world. Music not only lets you slide into a new zone of experience on your own, it also caters to a positive collectivism in you, connects you with others, and is the pimp in a yearning exchange process.
Knowing that “How Big How Blue How Beautiful” is already considered to be a successful record, only two weeks after its release (it charted at number 1 both in the UK and US) sparks exactly the opposite feeling within me. This success is saying a lot, in this times of declining market development, for the artist, who was also very successful with her last two albums (“Lungs”, “Ceremonials”) and therefore vehemently manages to buck the trend.
Florence Leontine Mary Welch’s music manages to appeal to a large number of people.
Why does her music leave me cold?
Why can I not feel the affirmation, that it seems to trigger in so many people, as well?
Why does it downright annoy me?
Let’s examine the video for the album opener, “Ship To Wreck”, for this:
In it you see Florence Welch wake up next to a man, who does not only bestow content facial expressions upon her. Pills and alcohol are shown as the origins of wrong decisions, and he protagonist tumbles through her abode, which is cluttered with knick-knack and clothes, first she falls theatrically into her bathtub, then she tears at her hair intensely, she even quarrels so much with herself, that she gets multiple version of herself, and she wants… Yeah, what does she want to represent? Somehow something that’s dazed hippie-like!
If you observe the relevant music press with an inclination to gossip (prevalent in the UK, where pop culture has the significance to be worth the gossip), you might have read how important Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac are for Florence + The Machine (but to whom in her generation aren’t they?) and that the two soul mates (how Americans and their quick leaning to dramatic terms would call it) have already met.
Why not? I can easily imagine how Stevie Nicks, mellowed by age, and likeably aloof, and Florence Welch, who relates herself to Nicks, have coffee together. If you take a closer look at their music and personalities, they unfortunately do not have much in common. While Stevie Nicks still embodies the dream of the 70s, the dream of absolute freedom, and stands for artistic implicitness of non-conformity, Florence Welch and her music come across as constructed, and sterile, and just so tremendously constructed.
This impression arises not only out of the production of”How Big How Blue How Beautiful”, which sounds a lot more slick than its predecessors, and lacks the warmth and certain psychedelic flavor, that were so important for them. Back then Florence + The Machine were perceived as a version of MGMT, which was more poppy and closer to the song structurally. But now everything is evocative of the power rock/ pop of Texas (“What Kind Of Man” weirdly reminds of the early, good Pixies, if you would have exchanged the blood for plastic). The artist (who writes the songs herself) just does not exude the tough physicalness of Johnny McElhone, instead she comes appears like a fictitious character who is anxious to be authentic, and who would love to be a hippie, according to the zeitgeist of the late 2000s, when Florence + The Machine were formed.
When eventually the 11th and last song “Mother” plays, which is a vigorous (yep, that’s cynical) power-rock-ballad, you wish you would be hearing something else. I’m going to play some Will Oldham now.
My problem with Florence Leontine Mary Welch and the machine, in short Florence + The Machine, is, that I really want to like them. Really! Ever since “Lungs” was released in 2009, I have been very open and motivated. Two years later, when “Ceremonials” was released, I once again did try everything to like her music. Because I am fascinated by this woman with the blazing red hair, the chiseled, Charlotte-Gainsbourg-like, not at all cute facial featured, and THAT VOICE, that can blow everything away like a megaphone. (Lungs!!)
But, oh but: I cannot bear to listen to her overproduced “baroque-pop”-records for more than 10 minutes, no matter how much I bother, going for little walks, catching some fresh air, reading the paper. As a gullible almost-fan I hadn’t given up the hope that I would fare different with “How Big How Blue How Beautiful” – maybe the abandonment of one-word-titles in favor of an airy, puzzling list was reason enough; I’m not sure. Now I do know better, or rather something expectably unpleasant: I cannot endure HBHBHB as well, at least not in one stretch: it got even worse, because Florence got more and more famous over the last 6 years, they slogged away even more with this record. Bombastic arrangements, thundering chorales (choirs seemed to narrow in relation to Florence), wind sections without ends, drama, and atmosphere all around. Unfortunately all of this battle of materials comes at the expense of the composition, that is the songs. None of them stick, apart from the opener “Ship To Wreck” and maybe “St. Jude”- frail first sings of melody are possibly being drowned out by the pompous orchestra fanfares, you can’t really make it out. Florence’s voice is stacked in many layers for the ballads “Queen Of Peace”, “Delilah”, “Caught” and “Various Storms And Saints”, this makes one feel downright hemmed in – which is a real pity, see above. I would really love to listen to the always love sick daughter of an English history professor (that’s a bit thick!), and yearn with her, and for all I care even suffer – but all I can hear are fragments, „I’m gonna be free, I’m gonna be fine“, or „you deserve what you are given, oh oh oh“. Oh oh. “What Kind Of Man” is strongly reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac during “Rumors”. I suppose that that is exactly where Florence wants or ought to go: The slightly freaky, but still absolutely mainstream AOR-box.
What that means for me: Finally having to say goodbye to the romantic idea, that me and Florence might develop into something more.
And the title track for the “Fifty Shades Of Grey”-sequel will surely be performed by Florence + The Machine instead of Ellie Goulding.
Translation: Denise Oemcke