Four albums in, Florence Welch is finally letting us into her world.
The flame-haired British songstress always has been something of a pop anomaly. With her band Florence and the Machine, she has created a rich catalog of rousing anthems including “Dog Days are Over,” “Shake It Out” and “What the Water Gave Me” — songs that inspire wild dancing at her shows and in your bedroom, making you forget their often-underlying darkness.
But be it her ethereal stage presence, scant interviews or colorful prose — painted by lofty themes of love, death and religion — it sometimes can feel like we’ve never really heard the real Welch, 31. That changes on new album “High as Hope” (Republic Records), in which she lets down her guard with wistful reflections on her past and present.
That’s nowhere truer than on the vulnerable lead single “Hunger,” which opens with the admission, “At 17, I used to starve myself / I thought that love was a kind of emptiness.”
It’s a reference to a past eating disorder, Welch told The New York Times, and the song works as an exorcism of sorts, as she comes to terms with the loneliness of the spotlight and her newfound sobriety.
Album highlight “South London Forever” vividly captures the bittersweet feeling of returning to her hometown, longing for the carefree days of young love and bleary parties, when she’d stumble home with her friends “like foals unsteady on their feet.”
“Patricia” is a joyous ode to one of her musical idols, Patti Smith, and “Grace,” named for Welch’s younger sister, feels as if it’s ripped straight from her diary, as she apologizes for an incident on Grace’s 18th birthday and promises to be better.
Welch, who is listed as co-producer for the first time on “Hope,” again relies on sweeping strings, pummeling drums and a heavenly host of backing vocalists, which might give fans deja vu regarding the band’s past albums on tracks such as “Sky Full of Song” and “100 Years.”
But the ominous, stripped-back “Big God” — a guttural cry for connection that’s actually just about getting ghosted via text — signals exciting potential for their sound moving forward. And it reminds us that Welch’s most indelible instrument will always be her electrifying voice.
The album ends on a gentle, ambivalent note with “No Choir,” which suggests Welch has found a measure of peace — for better or worse. “It’s hard to write about being happy,” she sings. “Happiness is an extremely uneventful subject.”
Fans in Chicago can hear the band in person come fall: Florence and the Machine plays the United Center on Oct. 19.