1 November 2015

Florence + The Machine - How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

How Big How Blue How Beautiful

Florence and the Machine

Track list:
Ship to wreck
What kind of man
How Big How Blue How Beautiful
Queen of peace
Various Storms & Saints
Long & Lost
Third Eye
St Jude

Bonus Tracks:
Make up your mind
Which witch (demo)
Third Eye (Demo)
How Big How Blue How Beautiful (Demo)

This album has received mixed but mostly very positive reviews. The album had excellent success in the charts and had Gold Platinum and Hold in Australia Poland and the UK.

Taken as a whole the album is as Florence described - it appears more truthful and is stripped down as real events are not swerved away from - they aren't dressed in myth and romantic themes - they're facts laid bare in a poetic way. You feel that she is giving more of herself rather than the persona she had developed as a means of expression.

However saying that, a quick check of Wikipedia for the Personal and instruments used shows quite an array:

Florence and the Machine
Florence Welch – lead and backing vocals
Isabella Summers – piano, strings, synthesizer, celesta, backing vocals
Robert Ackroyd – guitar
Christopher Lloyd Hayden – drums, percussion, backing vocals
Tom Monger – harp
Mark Saunders – bass guitar, percussion, guitar, backing vocals
Technical personnel
Markus Dravs – production
Paul Epworth – production (track 11)
Will Gregory – brass arrangement
Ted Jensen at Sterling Sound, NYC - mastering.

So the reviews which described the album as just as dramatic and 'histrionic' (see http://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/may/28/florence-and-the-machine-how-big-how-blue-how-beautiful-review) which I feel is a little harsh - may feel they are justified in their description.

But that would depend upon the basis of comparison. For example the album is not one girl and her guitar - but if you compare it to Ceremonials  Personal - How Big How Blue appears to be the epitome of restraint:

Florence Welch – vocals (all tracks); bass (13)
Rob Ackroyd – guitar (3, 13–15)
Christopher Lloyd Hayden – drums (1–12, 14, 15); backing vocals (1–4, 7–10); percussion (2, 3, 14)
Tom Monger – harp (all tracks); bass (8)
Mark Saunders – backing vocals (1–4, 7–9); percussion (1–3, 7, 9, 14); bass (3, 4, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, 15); additional guitar (11)
Isabella Summers – piano (6, 7, 11); additional backing vocals engineering (7, 11); drum programming (7, 11, 13); choir parts, strings (7); synthesiser (8, 13, 14); celesta, programming (11); bells, production (13)
Additional personnel
Sian Alice – backing vocals (1–4, 7–9)
Max Baillie – viola (1, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11)
Ben Baptie – mixing assistant (1, 4–6, 9, 10)
Tom Beard – photography
Rusty Bradshaw – keyboards (1–5, 7–10, 12, 13, 15); Hammond organ (6)
Bravo Charlie Mike Hotel – layouts
Bullion – additional esoteric sounds, drum programming (1, 2, 4, 5, 9, 14)
Ian Burdge – cello (1, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11)
Gillon Cameron – violin (1, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11)
Austen Jux Chandler – engineering (13)
Tabitha Denholm – art direction
Tom Elmhirst – mixing (1, 4–6, 9, 10)
Paul Epworth – production (1–12, 14, 15); pump organ (2)
Sam Paul Evans – drums (13)
Emma Forrest – liner notes
Richard George – violin (1, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11)
Matty Green – mixing assistant (2, 7)
Sally Herbert – string arrangements, violin (1, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11)
Peter Hutchings – assistant engineering
Ted Jensen – mastering
Joseph Hartwell Jones – assistant engineering
Rick Koster – violin (1, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11)
Oli Langford – violin (1, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11)
Nikolaj Torp Larsen – piano (6, 10)
Henrik Michelsen – additional assistant engineering
Lisa Moorish – backing vocals (1–4, 7–9)
Ben Mortimer – A&R
Jack Peñate – backing vocals (1–4, 7–9)
Mark Rankin – engineering (1–12, 14); mixing (11); assistant production (15)
Ben Roulston – additional backing vocals engineering (7); additional production, engineering (13)
Lucy Shaw – double bass (1)
Craig Silvey – mixing (3, 8, 12, 14, 15)
Mark "Spike" Stent – mixing (2, 7)
Jessie Ware – backing vocals (1–4, 7–9)
Eg White – production, all instruments (16)
Bryan Wilson – mixing assistant (3, 8, 12, 14, 15)
Warren Zielinski – violin (1, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11)

Listening to the album my first impressions were not exactly favourable, I wasn't getting it initially and it took a few more times to grasp the feel of the album - its direction and pace.

Eventually I came to the conclusion that it is beautiful. Ship to wreck would not leave my mind - the video of it the duality of expression - seemed to speak to me more than any of Florence's other tracks on her last two albums.

This seemed a message to the world that was more personal - you were looking into her life and her thoughts - rather than cinematic pictures of an epic adventure distanced by fantasy and a dreamlike quality.

How Big How Blue does - as the Rolling Stones Review correctly says 'pack(s) a punch'.

Ship to wreck

Nice start - sudden no gradual build-up. A delicate xylophone appears to tinkle through a thudding carrying beat. It's rousing and communicates strong emotion and chaos.
From the video that goes along with this I would think it about her personal thoughts and fears-her mental health - perhaps a dichotomy of presentation to the outer world - that there is part of her which can function in the world as society would expect - and another part thinks of how the internal chaos could be experienced in the environment.  Maybe she did feel out of control. Non supportive or non-collaborative relationships -with someone non-comprising in nature, can make a person feel incapable and insecure in their abilities.
  -'I can't help but pull the earth around me to make my bed' a security she didn't feel and needs.

What kind of man

An effect on the voice a slight echo -an almost otherworldly effect. The carrying thumping beat and her voice warbling with abandon over a brass sounding sample. More rock and roll sounding than tracks on previous albums lungs and Ceremonials.

How Big How Blue How Beautiful

A nice intimate sounding beginning the voice sighs from quiet to moderate along with brass and a calmer more relaxed paced beat.  Violins carry the tune with some samples its gentle not explosive or epic in the way her previous albums have taken. A stripping down of frills and some heartfelt questions. You feel she is singing to you rather than exploding in massive waves of distant grand vocals set in a pre-Raphaelite tableau. The brass gives it an almost comforting effect.

Queen of peace

String sounds start this track off and possibly again the brass. A drum kicks in to take you along with the insistent beat - the characteristic thumping driving rhythm-a feature of Florence tracks. The vocals open up but are more controlled/reigned in. Wouldn't be out of place in a looser smooth jazz set almost-a simpler vibe.

Various Storms & Saints

An electric guitar arpeggio leads in a gentle controlled vocal. Strings pick out the emotion in the lyrics. Florence has a truly beautiful voice and this is -for me- particularly displayed here. The effect seems almost spoiled by her singing louder mid track - you find yourself getting used to this clear soaring but controlled angelic voice. The characteristic wail feels jarring here.


Intriguing lyrics- as is always the case with Florence's work. I'm getting alternately
Sinéad O’Connor and Pink Floyd vibes. Which is a good thing I might add - as I like the artists clever and emotive work.

Long & Lost

Lovely controlled soft intimate vocals. Quiet relaxed guitar in the background.
Getting a Mcloughlin vibe here aka Due South drama. Very heartfelt.


So we've been taken through the gentle bitter sweet drama and are treated to a kinder sound -the happy ending. This is a reflection. Is that an accordion in the background? Yes I think it might well be. Fits it well. Drum is a more conventional rock kit sound.

Third Eye

An almost disco start, makes Eurythmics comes to mind. The thumping drums are back. The vocals don't do as much for me - but that's my personal preference for the more controlled and reflective sounding vocals in this album.

St Jude

This is definitely a toned and stripped down album. Appears to be based on real emotions based on what sounds like experience. It adds to the feeling this is a breakup album.


I feel more than ever that this track has somehow trapped and tethered the soaring golden vocals of Florence. The bounce around and move to her own beat within a rock and roll jazz type constraint. It's almost frustrating - but catches you on the edge of expecting her to wail at any moment - and instead appreciate the eclectic combination. It's beautiful. 'Mother, make me
Make me a bird of prey
So I can rise above this, let it fall away
Mother, make me
Make me a song so sweet
Heaven trembles, fallen at our feet.'

9 out of 10 – Almost perfect, almost

Favourite Track Ship to Wreck.

You can visit the Florence + The Machine website here

You can visit the Facebook page of Florence + The Machine here 

The Deluxe version of How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is available to stream on Spotify here

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