Florence + The Machine last released an album in 2018, titled High as Hope. It was roughly what you would expect from Florence Welch – experimental, ethereal, and strikingly honest about life as an indie rocker. But the album, though better than 2015’s How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, felt like a let-down after the raw emotion of Ceremonials and the dizzying uniqueness of Lungs.
Since High as Hope, Welch has written and recorded a few singles, but only the two most recent seem indicative of a new album – King and Heaven is Here. Judging by these two songs, it is extremely difficult to grasp the quality of an album that includes them, simply because one is good and the other is, for lack of a better word, “meh”.
The first to be released, King, was a feminist tour de force. It starts with soft, low vocals from Welch, as she sings about the pressure for women to have children and how female ambition is seen as world-ending. In true “Welchian” fashion, it has a strange mix of darkness and anger almost sung like a lullaby… making it almost hypnotic.
She soon starts to sing more from the chest, raises the volume, and proudly proclaims that “I am no mother, I am no bride, I am King”. Some may ask why ‘king’ and not ‘queen’. Surely, they are as regal and powerful as each other. These people miss the point. Welch is not expressing a need for her or other women to be seen as powerful but is referring to the fact that, in her career, she has often had to model herself on men to succeed but is still held back by her gender. Now in her 30s, her music and the path of her life are not as easily combined as they are for men.
By the time we reach the bridge, Welch and anyone singing along begin to let out very cathartic ‘oh’s. Behind all this is a bittersweet counter melody on brass. Following quickly is a return to the low, soft vocals of the intro, for a final verse that lightly brushes on Welch’s history of mental health issues stemming from her career and the need to fit in with the male rockers. In total, the song is a catchy, unique power anthem for any woman tired of structural misogyny.
This song was quickly followed by Heaven is Here. Remarking on why she wrote it, Welch said she wanted to write something “monstrous”. Welch certainly succeeded, if by monstrous she meant unpleasant to listen to. The vocals sound more like an arrhythmic and pretentious spoken word piece rather than lyrics to a song. There is barely any backing music to review and what there is does not sound sonorous. The one almost positive aspect is that it is quintessential Florence + The Machine – as experimental as they come. However, in this case, it can easily be argued that some experimentation is better left as theory.
Overall, the two singles can be described as one hit and one miss. This is troubling for the album – will it be an overall triumph, or will it fall flat like the previous two albums? My hopes are for an album of hidden gems and an audience confused by the choices for singles. My expectation is lower, an album that gets caught up in trying to be different and forgets that it is making music.