Anyone who had doubts about the sophomore album of Florence + the Machine can breathe freely.Frontman Florence Welch and her band’s newest contribution, “Ceremonials,” is a grand, sweeping gesture of an album. “Ceremonials” shows off Welch’s chillingly powerful vocals and allows her band to demonstrate its orchestral abilities.
If listened to in one fell swoop, the album recalls the uplifting joy of “Lungs” (2009) with interludes of much darker, haunting melodies. The first single, “Shake It Out,” is a blissful celebration of independence; Welch practically bursts, “And I am done with my graceless heart/ So tonight I’m going to cut it out and then restart/ ‘Cause I like to keep my issues strong/ It’s always darkest before the dawn/ Shake it out!”
The next song changes the tone of the album entirely. “What the Water Gave Me” starts with a haunting guitar and is later layered with Welch’s quiet voice. The song builds up slowly, until — in typical Florence style — it explodes into a medley of harps, drums, tambourines and her immense, ever−present vocals. This song marks most definitively the change of style Welch has adopted for “Ceremonials,” and this more epic, sweeping vibe exudes from each song.
The whimsical days when Welch frolicked barefoot in fields wearing long, flowing white dresses in the music video for “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)” are over; she has matured and become the complete master of her voice. The Florence Welch of 2011 prances around on stage in personally tailored Gucci dresses, but she describes her style as “scary gothic bat lady” and channels her idol, Stevie Nicks, shockingly well.
“Ceremonials” definitely possesses a more bittersweet tone than Florence + the Machine’s debut. “Never Let Me Go” is a melancholy ballad that, while certainly exhibiting some excellent ’80s−themed drums, is ruled entirely by Welch’s voice once again. In comparison to that, “Breaking Down” is a confusion of uplifting, jovial melodies tied together with dark lyrics such as, “Even when I was a child/ I’ve always known/ There was something to be frightened of.”
“Lungs” made it pretty clear that Welch has the voice to belt out power ballads left and right, but “Lover to Lover” demonstrates other aspects of her vocal range that had yet to be showcased. As her vocals lilt up and down, the backing piano adds a jazzy element to the song that is completely new for the band.
Welch’s background as the daughter of an art historian, and her subsequent fascination with all the tragic and epic elements of the human story, are extremely evident in her music. “Seven Devils,” an evocative song, exposes Welch’s obsession with these themes. She sings, “Holy water cannot help you now/ See I’ve had to burn your kingdom down/ And no rivers and no lakes can put the fire out” over a sinister melody.
On “Heartlines,” the band for once overshadows Welch’s voice with a pervasive drumbeat, while “Spectrum” is a fast−paced feel−good tune that could help anyone perk up. Finally, “Leave My Body” is a grandiose expression of freedom and also the point in the album where interest might wane.
The major problem with “Ceremonials” might just be that it is slightly too long. Although the band clearly masters their niche−sound, after 12 tracks it is hard to face four more — including additional bonus tracks — without feeling like the over−the−top sound, so enticing just six tracks ago, is a little too much.
However, if utterly extravagant anthems are your jam, then this album is a goldmine of beautifully ostentatious tracks. “Celebrations” features the type of music that would be playing in the background of a really dramatic moment in someone’s life. That considered, “Ceremonials” is a fitting title for this excellent follow−up album.
goldmine of beautifully ostentatious tracks. “Celebrations” features the type of music that would be playing in the background of a really dramatic moment in someone’s life. That considered, “Ceremonials” is a fitting title for this excellent follow−up album.