Florence and the Machine High as Hope Virgin/EMI Records
It isn’t until you hear High as Hope, the deeply personal fourth full-length from Florence Welch, that you come to realise how little of herself she’s offered up to us in the past. Over the course of her last three albums, she’s used metaphor and imagery more or less constantly, from ghosts in her lungs on her debut album to talk of third eyes, royalty and sainthood on her last one, 2015’s How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful.
It’s refreshing, then, to finally see Welch drop the veil and stop hiding behind quite so much allegory. Instead, she casts a fond eye back over the formative pre-fame years on South London Forever, pens a guilt-ridden confessional to her younger sister (the soaring Grace, co-written with Sampha) and reflects on the collapse of a long-distance relationship with The End of Love.
Welch has collaborated more widely than ever in the composition of High as Hope, leading to a welcome paring-back of her kitchen-sink orchestral tendencies. Big God, which grapples with religion and was co-written with Jamie xx, simmers with bluesy menace. The title of album closer No Choir is apt given that it might be the only track here not to feature gospel-style backing, which Welch deploys with far more nuance than you might expect. There’s still the occasional lapse back into the shouty Florence of old – see lead single Hunger – and sixth-form poet Florence too, especially on the asinine Sky Full of Song. For the most part, though, High as Hope is endearingly human