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CD of The Week

Week of 7/09/18

    Florence + The Machine - High As Hope (Republic)

    Florence Welch is an artist whose machine has run best when fueled by excess. Though occasionally exhausting, her first two albums remain exhilarating listens, as Welch demonstrated an exciting ability to render the esoteric epic, be it through her barnstorming vocals or the bombastic production backing them. However, 2015's How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, found her taking a more editorial approach, letting her emotions do the heavy lifting over more earthbound, less ethereal production. It didn't always work, but its highlights could still be classified as career highlights. It's hard to say the same for Florence + The Machine's fourth album, High as Hope, which finds her diving deeper into the blue at the expense of the big.

    That's not to say there isn't still beauty in the proceedings. "Big God" lumbers in like a horror movie stalker, leaning on outside help from Jamie xx and Kamasi Washington and leading with a piano to find a smart balance between stoic and stormy. Other immediate highlights include the swaggering "Hunger" and "Patricia", which successfully re-do what worked so well on Welch's earliest albums even if they don't exactly outdo them. Elsewhere, however, the too-muted production from Emile Haynie pushes the Machine's dial a little too close to the Adele setting. It's not exactly hard to imagine that setting being a good fit for Welch, but across songs like opener "June," it never feels natural. It feels like Welch is trying to fit herself into another aesthetic rather than the other way around.

    The most frustrating yet promising example of this comes in the closer "No Choir." Welch awesomely begins the song acapella before timid instrumentation comes in to prove the real problem with both this album and its predecessor. It makes the listener realize that when the instrumentation can't be bothered to match Florence's intensity, it should stay out of the proceedings altogether. Welch is capable of great, gorgeous things. There remains plenty to suggest that she still is, and just enough for me to maintain high hopes for what she does next. That said, she needs to remember to go big, go bold, or go back to the drawing board.

    Florence + The Machine return to Philadelphia at the Wells Fargo Center with Grizzly Bear on October 14th.

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    Review by Rob Huff

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