Ranking EVERY album from Florence and her glorious Machine!
Florence + the Machine formed in 2007 and have since gone onto release four studio albums, all of which have debuted in the Top 10 in the UK. Fronted by the angelic Florence Welch, the band have become known for their high drama, poetic lyricism and ethereal melodies. From receiving the Critics’ Choice Award at the Brits in 2009 to headlining Glastonbury in 2015, F+TM have left no stone unturned in their lifetime.
4) High As Hope (2018)
Out of all of their albums, High As Hope markedly proceeds in a different direction. By stripping back their trademark theatrical instrumentation, it is Florence’s remarkable vocals and storytelling that power the progression of the album. High As Hope is certainly the band’s most personal and intimate album to date, both creatively and sonically. In fact, it is the first album that Florence is noted as having a co-production credit.
Lyrically, the album reflects on Florence’s experience navigating through her teens and twenties, making it almost journal-like in its composition. Speaking to Annie Mac about the lead single ‘Hunger’, Florence stated that she was surprised she’d ever release something so private, referring to the lyrics’ discussion of her struggle overcoming an eating disorder. By grounding the lyrics in overtly everyday matters, High As Hope takes a more organic approach than earlier works, although this is not to say that the album lacks ornateness in any form.
This growth represents a more self-aware and mature Florence, with songs acting as apologies and acceptances towards her past self. For instance, ‘Grace’ is a love letter to her sister, apologising for ruining her birthday due to her drug fuelled behaviour whereas ‘South London Forever’ is an ode to the place she calls home.
With less emphasis on layering tracks with harps, choirs and organs aplenty, High As Hope gives Florence’s raw talent and vocal potency the room to breathe that it deserves. The one thing stopping the album placing higher in this ranking is the tracklist’s lack of experimentation… But then again: if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
3) How Big How Blue How Beautiful (2015)
Having taken a two-year long hiatus to deal with life outside of the popstar bubble, HBHBHB represents Florence’s attempts to cope with the aftermath of heartbreak. However, as soon as the anthemic pulse breaks through on opening track ‘Ship to Wreck’, it is clear that this album is not about being fearful but rather, fearless.
An ode to classic rock, HBHBHB’s strength lies in its roaring guitars and thunderous vocals. Replete with catchy hooks and distinctive percussion, it seems pertinent that HBHBHB was the album that took the band to the headline slot at Glastonbury.
Quieter moments are few and far between, with the likes of ‘Delilah’, ‘Mother’ and ‘What Kind of Man’ representing a grittier side to the band that up until this point was neglected. Indeed, as Florence calls and echoes ‘Cause I’m gonna be free and I’m gonna be fine / (Holding on for your call)’ in the chorus to ‘Mother’, you can’t help but imagine the track fitting seamlessly onto a Fleetwood Mac record.
Even on the more vulnerable moments, this sense of pompous edge triumphs. From the joyous horns in title track ‘HBHBHB’ to the blues-like vocals in ‘Caught’, splendour is the thread that ties the whole album together.
2) Ceremonials (2011)
Ceremonials is an album that hits the ground running and manages to never lose its enthusiasm. From the renaissance-esque album cover to the unignorable gothic pop influence, Ceremonials celebrates everything that encompasses high drama. If HBHBHB represented Florence’s Stevie Nicks era, then it would be fair to say that Ceremonials is more akin to a Kate Bush moment.
Building on the mysticism of Lungs, Ceremonials beats the cursed sophomore effect and, upon release, succeeded in showing the world that F+TM were more than a one album band. With Paul Epworth responsible for the production of the album, Ceremonials manages to tread the line between rock and gospel, merging glistening harps with rumbling drums to create a maximalist masterpiece.
Turbulent ballads such as ‘If Only For a Night’ and ‘Never Let Me Go’ dominate the album, but Florence proves that she is still adept at doing upbeat too, as exemplified by the disco ready ‘Spectrum’. Lest not forget Ceremonials is also the album that brought us the crescendo, ‘Shake It Out’. The fact that Welch has admitted to writing the song when she was hungover only adds to its enormity. By merging this sense of sorrow and grandeur, Ceremonials is all about going one step beyond, proving that it is possible to bridge the paradox between euphoria and melancholy.
1) Lungs (2009)
Narrowly beating Ceremonials to the top of this list is F+TM’s debut album, Lungs. Filled with crowd-pleasing indie show tunes, Motown-esque melodies and huge pop songs, Lungs breaks all conventions of genre, playing back more like a greatest hits record than a debut album.
Take opening track ‘Dog Days Are Over’, for example. Florence’s blues infused vocals play with the anthemic rock percussion and make it a track that can easily stand on its own. Likewise, ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’ juxtaposes haunting lyrics (‘Who is the lamb and who is the knife’) with a climatic rhythm – the perfectly kooky antidote to her record label’s request to make an ‘upbeat’ song.
Debuting in a time where the likes of Amy Winehouse and Duffy dominated the charts, F+TM’s combination of delicate yet powerful vocals, music and lyrics forms a world within mainstream airwaves that has persisted to remain unique and otherworldly. Although it may have been their contemporary cover of Candi Stanton’s ‘You’ve Got The Love’ that catapulted Lungs from number two to number one in the album charts, the diversity of sounds on the record is enough to make the album their best to date.
With vocals going from zero to hundred in a matter of seconds and themes of love, sex and religion being toyed with, Sophie Bruce’s assertion that ‘this album takes you somewhere you’ll never want to come back from’ is the only real way that Lungs can be described.
Words by Lucy Robinson