Florence + The Machine - How Big How Blue How Beautiful

by Jim Harris Rating:6 Release Date:2015-06-01

Florence dropped '+ the Machine' from the cover of her new album. The meaning of this is a two-fold. She is now officially bigger than her old machine and firmly in the hands of a bigger machine — the mainstream music industry. 

For her third album, she recruited a highly regarded producer (Coldplay, Arcade Fire. Flo claimed it was because of his work on Bjork’s Homogenic, even though the dude only mixed one song), moved herself and the band to LA, scaled back the grand themes of water imagery, fire, and other metaphorical conventions she cultivated in art school, and decided to join the growing legion of 20-something female pop stars who write revealing bitter love songs about their bad 20-something affairs. (Florence, you are young and famous and they have penises, something we haven’t heard from Katy and Taylor?)

Florence, ever since her start as the darling of the British press, has always gone for the grand musical presentation that complemented her big, beautiful voice - and what a voice. I don’t believe I’ve heard such a voice take over the Peabody Opera House with such brilliance since Joan Armatrading did so all those Grammy-winning years ago. A special voice is a special voice and Flo has it.

But the same thing happened to Joan Armatrading that has now happened to Florence. As Joan hit the mainstream, her voice got drowned out by slick, AOR production and, after the few streaming listens I have been able to squeeze in, the same thing has happened to Florence. Yes, the first single released, ‘What Kind of Man’, has Flo going deep and angry, and being as satellite radio-friendly as can be, but there is no growth past ‘Dog Days’ and certainly nothing to rival ‘No Light, No Light.’

The passion and execution that drove Ceremonials through most all of the songs is replaced and tempered by a producer intent on diluting the energy Flo brought previously with patiently executed pop grandeur intermixed with state-of-the-art pop mediocrity that may satisfy the bigwigs at Universal, and ultimately several million faceless, temporary fans, but is about as far away from Bjork and even Joan Armatrading that this gifted singer and songwriter can be. Even the title track reeks of a singer tricked into thinking she has done something grand and special with the horns and strings that linger laboriously towards the conclusion, when more than likely it was granted her by a producer who wanted to co-write a couple songs and leave his imprint all over her musical body. 

HBHBHB is a good album filled with good songs from an artist who should be blasting through the shit of the mainstream and belting out great songs. It just didn’t happen here. 

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