Thursday 17 September 2015

the art of letting go: florence + the machine

i struggled for so long (okay, a few hours) to come up with some clever, witty opening to this post, something that encompasses all i've been feeling in the last few days since i moved back to uni.

needless to say, i failed spectacularly.

it was then that i discovered this quote from florence welch about the year off she took to record her third album, how big, how blue, how beautiful, and the "nervous breakdown" she experienced:

"i was still going out and going to events but something wasn't quite right, i was spiralling a bit. i wasn't making myself happy. i wasn't stable." 

it may only have been a week since i moved back but already i'm feeling exactly the same. things have got to change; i'm just not sure what or how i'm going to do it. the self-destructive cycle of going out, coming back and spending the next day recovering from a hangover has finally taken its toll on me after two years of non-stop partying. 

maybe it's the influence of my new house mates, who are more partial to staying in watching a film of a friday night, or perhaps it's the way in which i drink, which is to mask the insecurities i feel around other people. drinking makes me less self aware and thus more confident, but just thinking about how i have to drink to achieve said confidence isn't worth the hangover the next day. either way, something has got to give.

of the themes within how big, how blue, how beautiful, welch said: 

"i guess although i've always dealt in fantasy and metaphor when i came to writing, that meant the songs this time were dealing much more in reality. ceremonials was so fixated on death and water, and the idea of escape or transcendence through death, but the new album became about trying to learn how to live, and how to love in the world rather than trying to escape from it. which is frightening because i'm not hiding behind anything but it felt like something i had to do."

this is exactly my problem; for so long i've been hiding behind this confident fa├žade only achieved through drinking, and i somehow need to learn to experience the world without it. 

despite all of this, how big, how blue, how beautiful isn't my favourite album of florence's. 

though i'd seen the video for dog days on the various music channels at the time, my love affair with florence + the machine really began with 2011's ceremonials. it was otherworldly and like nothing i'd ever heard before. it was so rich, so decadent, yet underneath it were these lyrics that were so full of the pain i was experiencing at the time, coupled with this need to escape the city i was convinced was holding me back.  

the beauty of this album lies in its ability to take you down but bring you right back up again. never let me go is heartbreaking in the very best way. it is a cathartic release, and one i have only recently allowed myself to feel in the last few months. generally i would avoid listening to this song unless i was really really upset about god knows what, but now i allow myself to listen as and when i please. "i'm not giving up, i'm just giving in", florence sings, and i sing along with her, through my tears, as i allow myself to cry. realising that crying is not something to be ashamed of, and something that is often necessary when i bottle up so many of my feelings, was the best thing i ever did. 

on the other end of the spectrum (sorry) is shake it out. the verses slowly build to the climatic chorus, which features a pounding drum beat and soft sleigh bells, though this song is anything but delicate. it comes at you with great force, hitting you right where it hurts. i try not to make a habit of crying at concerts, but as soon as this song started up at my show on the ceremonials tour, i felt a single tear fall from my eye. 

fast forward to how big, how blue, how beautiful; the single from the album of the same name, released in february of this year. this was a song that stopped me in my tracks. this song, to me, is freedom in every sense; endless possibility; weightlessness. clearly florence felt the same too, as she had this to say about the song:

"the trumpets at the end of that song - that's what love feels like to me: an endless brass section that goes off into space. and it takes you with it. you're so up there. and that's what music feels like to me. you want it just to pour out endlessly, and it's the most amazing feeling."

another stand out from this album is st. jude. while i am very much of the opinion that florence is at her best when she dabbles in excess, in decadence, in grandeur, the stripped back synth arrangements and pulsating drum beat of this track go some way towards changing my mind. that, and the powerful lyrics that really pack a punch. florence + the machine are very good at talking love, loss and life itself. in this song, loss is very much the name of the game, but also the aftermath and how we begin to rebuild ourselves, to learn from the experience, as shown in the pre-chorus:

"and i'm learning so i'm leaving
and even though i'm grieving
i'm trying to find the meaning,
let loss reveal it"

this song has a healing property like very few others, telling me that sometimes you just have to let it go. 

let's take it right back to where it all began for me, with 2009 (i know)'s dog days are over. released as the second single from the album lungs, it was an instant success and arguably the band's most well known track. this however, does not detract from the exhilaration, the rush, the pure joy that i experience every time i press play on this song. happiness hit her, like a bullet in the back, florence sings, and for the first time in a long time, i feel this. the dog days are well and truly over, and these words serve as a reminder that no matter how difficult things might be, they're a hell of a lot better than they were just a few years ago. 

though each album by florence + the machine differs slightly, the feeling of sheer, unadulterated freedom is a theme that runs through the music and lyrics of each one. it is this continuity that makes their appeal so enduring, and i can't wait to see what they come up with next.

(here's to hoping we won't have to wait another three years to hear it, though.)

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