Florence + The Machine – Ceremonials

With only one other album under their belt (yes, their album – the band is trying to move away from the misguided notion that it is just Flo’s solo stuff) it would be hard to suggest what other band has become so tremendously popular here and abroad in the past couple of years. A lot of hype has surrounded Ceremonials, so let’s get down to business: is it an amazing production or is it suffering from second album blues?

In terms of range of the songs they seem to be more consistent than what was on Lungs. To compare, there is no punchy “Kiss With A Fist” or sadistically seductive “Girl With One Eye”, nor is there a prevalence of the trademark harp in most songs. What we find in their place is a series of layered vocals on all tracks as well as a liberal amount of pipe organs. The general feel of the album seems to be dramatic and joyous, that is, until you start listening to the lyrics, which take a dark turn fairly frequently. Prophetic notions, spectres, disasters and their aftermath are the themes running through Ceremonials, with Florence Welch’s haunting vocal range highlighted all the while. The consistency of the album stems from Welch’s voice – at times it really does seems she is just trying to do some vocal gymnastics just for the sake of it which makes the tracks bleed into one another, but it does make the transition from Motown to pop to melodramatic ballad easier.

The opening track “Only If For A Night” stems from Florence apparently getting some practical advice from her grandmother’s ghost and sets a good trend for the first half of the album. Some other songs that people may already be acquainted with such as “Shake It Out” and “What The Water Gave Me” are quite strong, albeit the latter runs a bit longer than the average attention span. “Breaking Down” is a highlight; the dark lines running “And I can see it coming from the edge of the room / Creeping in the streetlight / Holding my hand in the pale gloom…” paired with happy-go-lucky instrumentation is really interesting and something to explore. Lover To Lover brings some soul into the mix. “Seven Devils” brings in the dramatic lament and “Spectrum” lifts you right back up again with a catchy pop chorus. Finishing off the album, “Leave My Body” has arguably the best vocal performance on the album: cleaner and somewhat more tame than what it could have been.

Ceremonials is definitely something one ought to listen to, whether you be a casual listener or a fully-fledged fan. The difference will fall down from person to person if you will immediately like it. The vocals can be over the top and a complacent person may lose track from one song change to the other but it’s best to take your time and savour those key moments that pique your interest, to let you sink into the album in its entirety. In some ways the bonus CD accompaniment in the deluxe edition is a saving grace, the demo and acoustic versions reminding the listener that their live performances are another level of performance altogether. All in all, Florence and the Machine is an intriguing band as they’ve ever been.
by Mason Smith

January 11th 2012
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