Recording information: Angel Studios; The Pool, London, UK; Urchin Studios, London, UK.
The much-anticipated third studio long-player from Florence Welch and her mechanically inclined companions, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful arrives after a period of recalibration for the spirited English songtress. Arriving three-and-a-half years after 2011's well-received Ceremonials, the 11-track set, the first Florence + the Machine album to be produced by Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Coldplay), eschews some of the bombast and water- and death-fixated metaphors of Lungs and Ceremonials in favor of a more restrained sonic scope and an honest reckoning with the dark follies of your late twenties. This change is most notable on the workmanlike opener "Ship to Wreck," a shimmering, open road-ready folk-rock rumination on the ambiguity/inevitability of post-fame self-destruction that, unlike prior first cuts like "Dog Days Are Over" and "Only If for a Night," feels firmly rooted in the now. The bluesy (and ballsy) "What a Man," the propulsive and purposeful "Delilah," and the gorgeous title track impress the most. Instead of building to a fevered crescendo, as is the Flo-Machine way, the latter cut, a transcendent, slow-burning, chamber pop gem, dissolves into a simple and elegant, yet still goose-bump-inducing round of horns, and is breathtaking without knocking the wind out of you. ~ James Christopher Monger
Rolling Stone - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "The tension makes for a sexy record that sticks to some familiar themes: a woman wrestling with lovers and emotions, often with biblical allusions, liquid-courage assists and a near-violent intensity."
Entertainment Weekly - "[H]er voice remains a galactic force capable of swallowing entire planets whole."
Billboard - "[S]he hasn't stripped all the ornamentation from her cathedral of sound and become a folky confessional songwriter. But she is resorting less to abstract, lofty imagery and speaking with a more frank immediacy."
NME (Magazine) - "Overflowing with stately songwriting and lyrical craftsmanship, HOW BIG, HOW BLUE, HOW BEAUTIFUL makes for a restrained but joyful return..."
Paste (magazine) - "Welch finds clever ways to enrich her bewitching blend of alt-pop, soul and art-rock-wringing out her usual quota of widescreen melodrama, but without the overwrought theatricality that dragged down much of her previous work."