The 29th of June has arrived and after a long build-up and excitement that surrounded the release of “Hunger” and “Big God”, Florence and The Machine’s latest album “High as Hope” is finally here. With music that is normally totally individual, this latest album is a little reminiscent of the works of British artist Kate Bush.
With uniquely different vocal styles and song choices if you were to hear the songs of Kate Bush and Florence and the Machine you wouldn’t immediately suggest similarities between the two. Kate Bush’s high soprano soars through strange intervals with an airy quality that seems to be an ethereal mixture of classical and pop training. Florence Welch, of Florence and the Machine, on the other hand, though having a magnificent range. delivers a strong alto. Her voice sounds grounded and the timbre rich.
If you were to see Welch and a younger Bush next to each other you might begin to find some similarities. Two, tall, redheads, whose style consists of long flowing dresses, reminiscent of a bygone era. Both singers present an elvish persona in the way they carry themselves. The two artists created an almost-otherworldly quality about them. This is something they have both carried through to their music.
The “Shake It Out” and “Dog Days” singer is no stranger to this comparison. After all, another tall redhead singer can hardly avoid this. Upon her debut Welch was touted as this generation’s Kate Bush. With her unique sense of style and music she provided a bridge to take listeners to pop into the world of high art. She was the accessible niche. However, as the singer’s career grew the comparisons ceased as she carved out her own particular brand and style.
Yet, with the release of her new album “High as Hope” we can expect the Bush- Florence comparisons to reappear with speed. The first single to be released for this album is the powerhouse melody “Hunger”. The song is typical of Welch’s strong, wide vocal range and intricate lyrics. However, there is something in the accompaniment that echoes strongly Bush’s 1985 single “Cloudbusting”. It is found in the staccato plucking of stringed instruments that in the intro to both songs. Bush’s “Cloudbusting” may be more subdued but the notes played slightly off rhythm create the same dissonance.
It is in the second “High as Hope” single, “Big God”, that the similarities grow. This time, however, it is not found within the music itself but in the music video. Welch is poised on a black soundstage. Behind her backup dancers are dressed in sheer underskirts draped in matching material. Both this costume choice and the chemise Welch is wearing are reminiscent of Bush’s 1978 “Wuthering Heights” version 1 music video as well as the video for her 1980 hit single “Babooshka”. It is not just the setting but the dancing. Welch’s chaotic emotional style of dancing relies heavily on strong full body movements that are reminiscent of the style and mood that Kate Bush evokes. It is an emotional style of movement that suggests the music is driving the whole body with strong but controlled arm movements that suggest a battle against the compulsion of the music but also a desire to succumb to its deep emotional intensity.
In “High as Hope” Welch has chosen to explore a mellow sound. While she maintains the intensity that she is famous for many of the songs begin with a softer more reflective tone. “100 Years” begins with the slow introduction of string instruments, creating a soothing background. The piano then follows with the gentle repetition of chords before Florence finally enters with the words, “I believe in you and in our hearts we know the truth.” There is a build throughout this song but then it returns to a softer dynamic. It is at the bridge where the tempo changes and the song once again becomes the powerhouse ballad that Welch is famous for.
The whole album follows this pattern, with “Big God” being the only piece that maintains the same level of energy and dynamic throughout. Overall an enjoyable, artistic piece of work that best suits a reflective mood.