TW: Mentions of mental breakdowns and eating disorders
In recent years, Florence Welch and her band/machine have produced albums that signify the phrase ‘it’s a grower’, and the 2018 album, ‘High As Hope’ was the beginning of this fiasco. Her debut album, ‘Lungs’, was critically acclaimed, earned her a Brit, thrusting her into mainstream music, but her later albums have needed one or two listens to truly appreciate. Of course she is still considered one of the best in the game, but ‘High As Hope’ is one of her safer albums, so consequently, it is one of her lesser well known works.
Once you get down to listening, it really is a beautiful album – very honest, sentimental, and subtle. Back in the days of 2018, artists relied mainly on radio plays to publicise their music, and I think this is why the album has a smaller following; the songs don’t lend themselves to radio plays, being very slow, and, I’m gonna say it, a tad boring for your average Capital FM listener. ‘High As Hope’ followed Florence’s punchier album ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’ which had huge commercial success, staying in the Top 10 for over 4 weeks. ‘HBHBHB‘ was conceived during a nervous breakdown according to the singer, which perhaps explains the more chaotic sound, whereas themes of mental illness appear in High As Hope, but it seems a lot more reflective. This is why High As Hope is one of my favourite albums ever; it is sombre, warm, and comforting.
The first single to be released from the album was ‘Sky Full Of Song’ which deals with Welch’s relationship with the highs and lows of being on stage. For me, it’s not one of my favourites because it lacks the grand sounds of harps and strings that I love in Florence’s songs. The song feels like there should be a big crescendo or at least something a bit more, but it remains simple and anti-climatic.
The second single, ‘Hunger’ reached a much wider audience and had a better reception reaching 41 in the UK Charts. The lyrics meditate on Florence’s experience with an eating disorder in her teenage years; she soulfully opens the song with the lyrics “At seventeen I started to starve myself / I thought that love was a kind of emptiness” which is just so philosophical and honest at the same time. Florence revealed the song was initially a poem meant for her 2018 book Useless Magic, but she put it against some uptempo music and made a classic alternative hit. ‘Hunger’ is an incredible example of Welch’s lyrical prowess, and the song even features the lyrics “You Made A Fool of Death with Your Beauty” that I see quoted hundreds and hundreds of times online!
There are some other incredible songs on this album including ‘South London Forever’ which again feels very nostalgic as Florence reflects on her formative years growing up drinking with art students and climbing museum rooftops. As with many Florence songs, this track makes you feel as though you’re floating through all your best memories! Another one I love is ‘Grace’, which will make you ball your eyes out! It’s an ode to Florence’s sister who looked after her during the bad times and the guilt Florence feels over the way she treated her. The story really puts you into the family’s lives; the birthday party Florence got high at, being drunk in Camberwell, and Florence’s recurring religious imagery. These songs really feel as though Florence has come out of a tumultuous time in her life as a more introspective person.
My absolute favourite song on the album is ‘The End of Love’. The beautiful track opens with the lyrics “I feel nervous in a way that can’t be named” which is just so relatable and honest. The song uses a beautiful choir of voices to make a song that is so emotional and soulful. My favourite part is the bridge which uses Florence’s trademark religious iconography where she sings “And Joshua came down from the mountain with a tablet in his hands / Told me that he loved me / And then ghosted me again” I think the juxtaposition between the old testament and the modern day phenomena of ‘ghosting’ is so genius and reminds us why Florence Welch is the most poetic genius of our time.
‘High As Hope’ is a beautiful album deserved to be praised for its relatability and retrospection. It is an album that details the feelings you have after a hard time in your life, and the sound is nostalgic, hopeful, and true gospel.
You can watch the music video for ‘Hunger’ here, via Republic Records: