High as Hope (pt 1) – Florence + the Machine

 I’m so high, I can see an angel

by Adelaide Greig

I was lucky the day High as Hope (2018) was released. I had the day off work and the house to myself, so was free to put on my obnoxious over-ear headphones with a gleeful snap and let ‘June’ begin to play as I pranced around the kitchen. The fact I was wearing last night’s pink flannelette pyjamas and mascara rather than a priceless floral-lace-earth-mother-witch maxi dress slightly ruined the ethereality of the whole thing, but it felt good anyway.

I must admit, I have only become a Florence fanatic since the release of her last album in 2015, so my enthusiasm to jump on this latest release was partly due to a desire to assert my own sense of dedication to a woman whose music has been a defining voice in my ability to process emotions since I properly discovered it.

 And those heavy days in June, when love became an act of defiance

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (2015), with its excruciating idylls to lost love, broken dreams and singing from rooftops in wilful defiance of it all, was the album I needed over the past two years. I was hopeful this year would bring new Florence like it has a newer me, battered but resolute from heartbreak and growing pains; tired but wiser; older but more understanding—softer but also stronger, like I have become.

Standing in my kitchen as the tears streamed, I was not disappointed.

 At seventeen I started to starve myself, I thought love was a kind of emptiness

The album is ringed by a shimmering bittersweet aura, at no point either condemning or wailing or rejoicing. Rather, Florence has found a middle ground, an acceptance of the pain and love of life and living—the ebbs and flows, a momento mori, an empathy for the non-empathetic

We all have a hunger

There is no particular sense of story throughout the album, similarly to How Big it fluctuates from thought to mood from song to song. The sunny tribute to one’s hometown, ‘South London Forever’—

And everything I ever did was just another way to scream your name …

—tumbles into the moody and gothic ‘Big God’ with little to no warning, but they fit like perfect puzzle pieces all the same.

… you’re still my favourite ghost

‘Sky Full of Song’ was the first single released from the album, and as the best example of the ambiguous state of the work overall, it’s easy to see why. This song is the closest Florence gets to her trademark life-empowering self-confidence bangers, but even so it refuses to relinquish everything to a sense of calm or freedom, instead acknowledging the beautiful fragility of the good times.

I thought I was flying but maybe I’m dying tonight

I find it all the more affirming and comforting as a result.

‘Grace’ is the song that makes me cry.

We haven’t spoken in a long time. I think about it sometimes. I don’t know who I was back then.

 To me, it feels like a painful but necessary acceptance of one’s past, particularly the mistakes—a willingness to shoulder regrets but only to learn from them, not to horde hate. ‘Grace’ hurts, but it trusts in tomorrow, and the power of an ability to admit weakness.

 The sunshine hit me, and I was behaving strangely

 This song makes me want to forgive things I haven’t been able to.

 I will make it up to you, this is the only thing I’ve had any faith in

The pace of the album picks up again in ‘Patricia’ and ‘100 Years’

 With your big heart you praise God above, but how’s that working out for you honey, do you feel love?

The latter has been my go-to pre-work jam since its release; I pace down Flinders Street and think ‘yes, I am born again with each sunrise’ and remind myself I’ve got to work hard for the things I want.

Hubris is a bitch

I need to remember to press pause before it ticks over to the next song, however.

 I feel nervous in way that can’t be named, I dreamt of a sign that said the End of Love

 I save ‘The End of Love’ for later at home, in my room covered in drawings and postcards and polaroids; my housemates go to bed early and I have the stillness of the world to myself. I have found a peace in this loneliness this year, an acceptance in the cold air I can breathe as I sit on my back porch and draw and write in the moonlight.

And it was so far to fall, but it didn’t hurt at all, I let it wash away, wash away

 The final song of the album, ‘No Choir’, is a meta reflection of her own work, and as such is a perfect framing and finale.

And it’s hard to write about being happy, because the older I get, I find that happiness is an extremely uneventful subject. And there are no chorus that could come in, no grand choirs to sing about two people sitting doing nothing. But I must confess, I did it all for myself, I gathered you here to hide from a vast unnameable fear

 This vast unnameable fear is why I let myself get lost in Florence, or rather find it impossible to not do so.

Her songs are so familiar but also speak of things I’ve never thought of, answer my questions as they write new ones. In High as Hope, Florence admits she doesn’t have the answers either. But we can cry and we can sing and we can dance, in flannelette jammies or gorgeous gowns, and it’ll be a bit better.

And the loneliness never left me, but I can put it down in the pleasure of your company … things are so unstable but for a moment we were able to be still

 I found Florence two years ago, and since then I’ve learnt to cry and hope and try more than ever. Feel hurt and fight for love and let the tears run, the happy and the sad ones.

The best thing we can do in the end is, as Florence says,

hold onto each other

 

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