A solid if at times unsatisfying return...
'How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful'

'How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful' - Florence & The Machine's third full-length record – promised to be a more reserved affair, compared to the grand sound of 2011's 'Ceremonials', in which Welch's self-confessed maximalist traits were prominent.

Opener 'Ship To Wreck' lives up to this description - nothing about the instrumentation would identify this as a Florence & The Machine track; it's an upbeat pop song without a harp or crashing drum in sight. It's the contrasting lyrical theme however, which injects that dose of melancholy we've come to expect: "Did I drink too much, am I losing touch, did I build this ship to wreck?" Welch asks herself, as she discusses being on a path of excessive partying and self-destruction.

On the whole, the record feels much more like a band effort compared to 'Ceremonials' as the production has been scaled back in places, with guitars and live instruments at the forefront. First single 'What Kind Of Man' boasts an angsty distorted guitar riff, as Welch sings with more grit and attitude than ever before, while album closer 'Mother' builds to a heavy blues climax.

The album's most impressive tracks are in the form of those stripped-back moments, where the band adopts a less-is-more approach with greater space to breathe. "I can't keep calm, I can't keep still" Welch admits in the soulful chorus of 'Caught' while the understated classic rock sound of 'Long And Lost' sees Welch brooding over an ex in hushed tones. The simplicity and pureness of 'St. Jude' carried by simple keyboard chords and a subtle heartbeat drums make it the standout moment of the record.

There are times where the band slip into old habits, however; the most typically Florence track on the record, 'Third Eye' - has everything pounding at full-throttle as verses are bellowed-out at a level that soon begins to grate. The chaotic 'Delilah' under uses its strongest and most distinctive section, in the form of Welch's "too fast for freedom" falsetto, as the track remains at the same level for its five-minute duration.

Florence & The Machine have delivered a much more dynamic record, that could draw in those put off by their overblown, dramatic sound. The songs that do aim to be bigger however, simply don't stand-up against their previous work or the mellower parts of the album.

"Maybe I've always being more comfortable in chaos" Florence states, although 'How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful' proves that perhaps she could step out of that comfort zone more often.

6/10

Words: Tom Skinner

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