High As Hope continues Florence Welch’s journey away from indie weirdness and towards the doldrums of adult contemporary. LP 4 is tasteful, but lacks any kind of energy or engagement.
What the album lacks in musical invention it makes up for in the writing. There are some wonderfully vivid songs on here. ‘South London Forever’ is a throwback to a place in time – the indie scene in the early to late 00s – that will draw a sigh from anyone who remembers the days of Topman V-Necks and fingerless gloves. Florence’s voice is restrained and light, spiriting the song along on a whimsical breeze.
‘The End of Love’ suggests supreme self-confidence in Welch’s writing, semi self-aware as it is. Beautiful too, and hints at the album that could have been without producer Emile Haynie’s maximalist pomp. ‘Grace’ is a pretty ballad for Welch’s put-upon sister. It is a lovely, Lanaesque slice of downbeat jazz. However it isn’t long before the choirs come crashing in.
Sunday hand claps, orchestral swells, and enough vocal interludes to burst a chorine in two. These are not the foundations of Florence & The Machine, they are the clichés for which they are known. Doubling down on these only makes them more grating. Yes, the album closes on a track called ‘No Choirs’. If only.
There is an earnest, beating heart to this, as there always is to Florence projects. No sense doubting her commitment, her talent or her nous. However, her messages are muddled by static and often boring arrangements and production.
The emotion is degraded, not amplified by Florence bellowing every note, as if trying to be heard over the whirring of industrial apparatus. High As Hope is a direct intent to connect. Lungs & Ceremonials were very much intended to thrill, as they regularly did. That sense of sonic largesse is gone, and in its place something perfectly nice and perfectly average.