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Six and a half years ago, when Florence Welch was just 22 years old, the soaring, pounding, soulful and, most of all, grandiose anthem 'Dog Days Are Over' was released by Florence and the Machine. Pulled from the band's 2009 debut record, Lungs, the single helped establish the group as one of the most promising purveyors of baroque pop in the world. Her exquisitely soulful pipes received unique accompaniment from some of her peers, such as Amy Winehouse, as she favoured a distinctively earthly sonic palette that included, among other things, harps. But whereas as Lungs and its 2011 follow-up, Ceremonials, relied heavily upon Welch's thunderous voice to support slightly above mediocre songwriting, their latest release, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, is their strongest yet as Welch bares her soul and helps form the band's most complete project.

Welch has a voice so powerful that it is always clear the spotlight is firmly upon her. But whereas Lungs and Ceremonials were unable to find dynamic ranges for her, How Big... showcases a more restrained approach, allowing for quieter moments in which Welch can thrive. The bluesy 'Various Storms & Saints' is still a magnificent spectacle of a song, complete with heart fluttering strings and heavenly strings, but Welch is still able to keep her voice low-key enough to make her ache apparent. Similarly, the title track shines brightest in its low moments, before allowing the song's horns to emote as well as any Antlers song.

But the band's more lavish moments, as they explode into rollicking blasts of rich emotion and extravagant power, still are more than capable of leaving a listener breathless. The one-two punch of 'Ship To Wreck' and 'What Kind Of Man' that starts the record will be enough to floor most people. The former jangles along at a bouncy pace as Welch wails, "Did I drink too much, am I losing touch, did I build a ship to wreck?" On the latter, a biting garage rock riff backs another rhetorical question, but a significantly bitterer one: "What kind of man loves like this?" And to the individual who inspired this vitriolic diatribe: I hope you've learned your lesson about crossing a woman like Florence Welch.

And this where Welch truly shines. While she still displays a clear affinity for lyrics that make biblical allusions and utilize nautical imagery, the sting of the subject matters pokes through in a big way. This is a tremendous breakthrough for the singer, as her words can finally match her booming voice and, in the case of the aforementioned songs that showcase more restraint, have even sensibly reined her in on occasion.

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful is an arena-ready and festival-ready record that, in true Florence and the Machine fashion, is packed to the brim with alarmingly catchy hooks and astounding vocal theatrics from its vocalist. The drama-filled lyrical content plays beautifully into Welch's penchant for larger-than-life singing. But by electing to take usher in a few low-key moments alongside these spectacles, Welch and her crew have accomplished the tricky feat of constructing a record that deserves radio play, but doesn't bow to typical pop music conventions. This is an impressive record that seems to be ushering in a new, exciting era for Florence and the Machine.

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