Raise It Up!
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty
Why Music Needs Florence + the Machine Right Now
THIS was the news story that got me…
PHOTO CREDIT: HANDOUT
quite excited about a few days ago.! The article/news in questions comes from NME - and it seems like Florence + the Machine are returning. I say ‘returning’ but, to be honest, Florence Welch has not left us – simply getting on with life and living as normally as possible. NME have their faults, but they are good at presenting these interesting little news stories. Here are some lines I will borrow from them:
“Florence + The Machine look set to return next year, having been announced to headline Melt Festival 2018.
Having dropped their acclaimed third album ‘How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’ in 2015 before stepping in to headline Glastonbury in place of Foo Fighters, Florence Welch and co’s last major shows were at festivals in 2016 – including British Summer Time where she was supported by Kendrick Lamar”.
The dates are set up and it seems Welch will have a busy 2018! There have been whispers of new music but, with touring and festivals starting to form, you know there has to be something coming very soon – otherwise, it would seem odd to book an act promoting their latest album. That previous record, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, was released back in 2015 and scored big reviews.
The third album by Welch explored vulnerability and a difficult time for the star. It was a simpler beast (then her previous two albums) and was a stripped-back and soulful recording. The powerful vocals and drama were there but, unlike 2011’s Ceremonials, there was more calm and contemplation. The sensitive lyrics and commanding songwriting was a step forward from her older work – critics noting how she had assimilated new layers and gaining fresh confidence. If the first two albums were bombastic and declarations of liberation, growth and love: How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful was the more mature songwriting addressing new concerns and problems. I have written about another act faced with pressure and spotlight: the incredible London Grammar. The success Ceremonials gained – and the acclaim her debut album, Lungs, accrued – meant Welch was in-demand and a popular artist. Relentless promotion and touring meant her face was all over the place; everyone wanted a piece of her – balancing that with everyday life and the demands that come with it. Welch spoke with D.J. Zane Lowe back in 2015 and explained how, prior to writing the album, she had a sort of nervous breakdown. Oddly, it was a conversation with Taylor Swift that gave Welch some perspective and gravity. There is another star that has faced turbulence and an endless workload – the conversation and companionship was invaluable to Welch.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty
When putting the bones for her third album together; the stresses and complexities of her life were laid bare. Listening to it now and one can hear how personal and meaningful the music is. Welch has always mixed fantasy and personal emotion together but, on How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful; things were much more direct and less oblique – the title seems like the heroine looking down at the big world – or the expanse of the ocean – and feeling helpless. In a recent interview with The Telegraph – couldn’t read the entire thing as it asked me to register (not a chance!) – Welch discusses her anxieties and battles with alcohol. She started the interview by explaining how nervous she gets and the need to cry is always there – although, she is not sure why. Her home, as was explained, is a small Georgian cottage with browns, greens and yellows; artworks and antiques; books packed onto shelves – not what one might expect from a mainstream star in her young-prime. I have followed her career since the beginnings and seeing her enter a new phase of her life – on the third album – was a brave mood. Rather than flirt with death and stand distant to issues: Welch embraced the need to detach from water-based songs and ground her feet onto the floor. Many would take a sharp breath were they presented with an album that differed from Lungs and Ceremonials – two big and bold records that had plenty of escapism and relief.
PHOTO CREDIT: Samir Hussein/Getty
Not that How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is a heavy and pathos-ridden experience: it is an album that explores maturity and new challenges in life. Welch, now, is only thirty-one and, since her 2009 debut, has taken in a lot. It is not just the flame-haired goddess who shoulders the entire spotlight – her players and musicians are there with her, too. It is, however, all about Florence Welch and her life. One of the reasons the announcement of new material – what shape that will take, we are not sure – is so thrilling is the fact Welch has managed to record and make sense of her troubles. I can empathise with her anxieties and revelations. She is very honest in interviews and, listening to her speak, she is a very normal and relatable woman. I have included two rather revealing interviews; both are in a ‘showbiz’ setting and there is nowhere to hide. One wonders how Welch camouflages and evolves in a more intimate setting – sitting with a newspaper in her home; safe in her own surroundings. I watch her speak and can see the flicker in her eyes. There are nerves but there is that need to be honest and not hide anything away. The palpable emotion in her voice contrast between heart-breaking and merry-making. Welch is a woman who has sensitivity and fragility: music is a way for her to channel this and project a more confident persona.
There are so many new artists out there but few have the same sense of allure, intrigue and beguile as Welch. Many have compared her to Kate Bush and, in musical terms, there is an aspect of that. I guess we can draw comparisons between them when it comes to conversation and personality. Bush is less troubled – and has not faced alcohol demons and as much stress – but times are different now. Back when Bush starts (1977/1978); there wasn’t the openness of the Internet and the same sort of mainstream/media expectations. Bush is an artist who records in her home-studio and is comfortable in her own skin – that was not always the way; she would have felt the same problems and pressures. Florence Welch is someone who was flung into the limelight and struck a special chord. I can see the comparisons between Bush and Welch. In terms of that bond with nature and the mystical; the intelligent bent and original lyrics – tackling love and self-assessment with great wisdom than their peers. Maybe Welch’s voice is more strident and fulsome – Bush only really started to add that sheer boom to her voice a few albums in – but there are similarities hard to avoid. Both project a curious and sensual figure; both are down-to-Earth and honest; you feel their hearts beat every second they are singing. There is something immersive and entrancing about Florence Welch that makes me think of Kate Bush.
If Lungs was Florence + the Machine’s Never for Ever then Ceremonials might be – in terms of scope and subject, rather than quality – their Hounds of Love. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful has elements of The Dreaming and The Sensual World. Roughly, you can join dots and lines between the records and see how Welch has progressed as a songwriter. One wonders how her fourth album will sound. You can dispose of the Kate Bush links as, on this record, there is going to be more revelation and honesty than ever – has a Kate Bush album ever been that raw?! I am not sure what subjects Welch is exploring but I would imagine her troubles with anxiety and alcohol will be there. Maybe there will be a slight return to the fantasy and flight of Lungs. Welch has said she is keen to disassociate from water-based themes and the same arcs – not wanting to repeat herself and be that same person. There are few personalities and figures like Florence Welch in modern music. I have seen a few new songwriters I am interested in but rarely do they leap off the page and get into the heart. Maybe that is the sign of the modern age: music is more digital; it allows less time and chance to connect as human beings. Welch is someone who gets under the skin and you feel real affection for.
PHOTO CREDIT: Eric Ryan Anderson
She is a human being who has had to overcome dark days and obstacles: her new music will assess where she is in life and try and move forward. I think Welch has also experienced a break-up fairly recently. Broken relationships have been part of her music since the start but, taking on board everything that has been happening in her life; a dislocated and fractious relationship added extra strain and weight. There are so few like her in music: those humans that can attract you with their incredible music but compel you to investigate who they are as people. Maybe the glare and hound from the press contributed to Welch’s anxieties. Touring demands hardly helped and the fact she was unable to detach from work meant the post-Ceremonials period would have a profound effect on her follow-up record. It has been a couple of years since her third album and, in that time, there has been a lot of touring and press. Maybe the songwriter has afforded herself some time off but one imagines there has been that constant pressure, personal and commercial, to get a new record out. It seems like Welch’s home is a relaxing and personal space where she can dive into books and feel relaxed among the antiques, rural décor and captivating colours of home.
The world outside her home is less predictable and safe. The woman of ‘Florence + the Machine’ is different from ‘Florence Welch’. I worry the young woman might find herself thrust heavily back into the heat of the media very soon. With a new album; the announcement comes and the inevitable barrage of interviews starts. I feel the spoon-feeding nature of modern music means from now and the album’s release will find Welch busy and unable to rest. Rather than release a record, put it out there and tour it; artists are expected to do teaser videos and make announcements; release endless singles and ensure the record is almost bled dry by the time it comes out. It is designed to get streams and downloads; to get ahead of the competition and succeed. It is a lot of pressure on the artist and I feel that kind of stress is something Florence Welch can do without. What is positive is the fact she has a new album coming out – where she can discuss her experiences and show the music world what it is missing. Every Florence + the Machine record is a wonderful and tantalising thing. Whether the fourth record will return to the grace and foundations of Lungs or continue where How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful left off – it is going to be hard to tell. Whatever form this record takes it is going to be a huge and much-needed thing. I know Welch has had to deal with a lot of anxiety the past couple of years and it is a transformative time for her. She has tried the partying and drink; she has done the celebrity thing. These, as she has said, are temporary things and phases: the focus needed to record music and continue to grow is what’s important. This will come to the fore in the new record. It is a time where we need to support the finest and most promising songwriters around and, in Florence + the Machine, we have one of the…
PHOTO CREDIT: Claire Morris/NME
FINEST acts in music.