How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (Deluxe)

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (Deluxe)

When Florence Welch began her band’s third album with the line “Don’t touch the sleeping pills, they mess with my head,” it was immediately clear that this would be her most personally excavating work yet. Indeed, in an interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe in February 2015, she revealed that she had “a bit of a nervous breakdown” during a year off in Los Angeles, following the storming success of Florence + the Machine’s two hit albums (2009’s Lungs and 2011’s Ceremonials). “I was still going out and going to events but something wasn’t quite right, I was spiraling a bit,” she said. “I wasn’t making myself happy. I wasn’t stable.” It was only after Taylor Swift told her to write all of this personal pain into her music rather than ignore it, that she refocused and made 2015’s How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. But this was no acoustic, confessional record. Its sound is very obviously influenced by Welch’s time in America, the drums, harps, and ethereal Celtic and English affectations that the public knew and loved the band for swapped for loving nods to Fleetwood Mac (“Queen of Peace”), ’70s dance tracks (opener “Ship to Wreck”), and sassy Motown numbers (title track “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful”). And every song is an unflinching illustration of the difficult time Welch was weathering, whether the stomping belter “What Kind of Man,” which depicts a toxic on-off relationship (“To let me dangle at a cruel angle/Oh, my feet don’t touch the floor”), or soaring single “Queen of Peace,” which is just as theatrical, with Shakespearean references and talk of blood and sorrow. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful was shortlisted for the 2015 Mercury Prize and received five nominations at the 2016 Grammy Awards. It proved to Welch—and her fans—that no matter how big the blue feelings are, there is beauty to be made from them.

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