Album Reviews

Florence and the Machine – Ceremonials

on November 04, 2011, 8:00am
Ceremonials C+
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Although ceremonies differ around the world, there are a few constants. The event is usually personally and culturally significant, a performance of some sort occurs, and there’s a direct tie to love, whether it be for another person, country, etc. Florence and the Machine’s second album fits all those criteria. Ceremonials is a focused, spiritual effort that will please fans of Lungs without being a retread. Rather than hitting you with mega-singles, this sophomore release dives into a world of intricate music that circles around magnificent vocals.

Still, “Shake It Out” will definitely be the “Dog Days Are Over” this time around. Florence Welch navigates through pulsing organs and a maze of clichés, adding her own dark twist to the familiar sayings (“I’m always dragging that horse around… Tonight I’m gonna bury that horse in the ground”). The song culminates in an ecstatic, explosive chorus, encouraging you to shake off that “devil on your back.” It’s a joyous, life-affirming single that hits all the right notes, both musically and emotionally. Hope you all enjoy this song; you’ll be hearing it about a thousand more times over the next year.

Musically, Ceremonials isn’t as varied as Lungs, but it makes up ground with impeccable flow and lush instrumentation. “What the Water Gave Me” starts with deeply reverberating gongs and some sly background guitar patterns. Rather than swinging for the skies, the chorus drops most of the music in favor of a choir of voices, only to climb for new heights in the next verse. “Breaking Down” would be an ideal song for release around the holidays, with its chiming Christmas bells and heartwarming strings. Gorgeous layers of piano and harp are positioned over a scraping, irate rhythm in “All This & Heaven Too”, perfectly translating Welch’s frustration over expressing her love. Lyrically, the message is just as powerful, with segments like “Words, poor language/doesn’t deserve such treatment/And all my stumbling phases never amounted/to anything worth this feeling.” Heavenly indeed.

Of course, the centerpiece of Florence and the Machine is the vocals. Welch’s voice was impressive on her debut, but that was just a warm-up act. Want some strong technique? In “Only If for a Night”, no two verses are sung similarly. She fires her way through different pitches over the course of a couple lines with equal parts control and passion. Interested more in power? Listen to the 12-second note she belts out in “No Light, No Light”. Add the performance here to her last LP, and you essentially have the Swiss Army knife of vocalists.

Ceremonials’ greatest strength is also the direct cause behind its few weaknesses. A good number of tracks are musically flat, using Welch’s ability as a crutch. “Lover to Lover”, “Seven Devils”, and “Heartlines” all sound good enough while listening, but you’ll forget their melodies in two songs’ time. A second flaw is the lack of intimacy found within the vocals. From start to finish, Welch sounds like she’s shouting from a mountain or in a huge church. There’s echo everywhere. “I’m Not Calling You a Liar” felt like she was singing in your ear. On this album, she’s singing into the ether. Hints of that close, warm vocalization can be found on “Spectrum”, but it lasts only until the dubstep beat comes in. While this issue doesn’t make the vocals any less impressive, it does create an unnecessary distance between artist and audience.

Florence and the Machine’s second album is certainly a move in the right direction. Where Lungs felt like an exploration in sounds, Ceremonials is tightly focused in an ethereal style that fits with Welch’s voice. She sounds passionate, professional, spiritual, scientific, inspired, and excited. Sometimes, that’s all in one song. Most of all, no matter what’s changed or what’s being sung about, she’s got the love.

Essential Tracks: “Only If for a Night”, “Shake It Out”, and “All This & Heaven Too”

6 comments

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Inker
November 8, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Ceremonials – Love it, Love it, Love it!

Inker
November 8, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Ceremonials – Love it, Love it, Love it!

Keith Moore
November 6, 2011 at 2:20 pm

I’m not sure this is a move in the right direction. Lungs had a certain dynamism, a range that’s lacking here. Every song is so over the top. She needed to take a much more subtle approach on some of these songs and the overall result would have been better. I’d give the album – as a whole – 3 stars. A number of the individual tracks are at least 4 stars but the problem is that there’s too much intensity and similarity when they’re all put together. Full review at http://www.kammentary.com/2011/11/album-review-ceremonials-by-florence.html

Keith Moore
November 6, 2011 at 2:20 pm

I’m not sure this is a move in the right direction. Lungs had a certain dynamism, a range that’s lacking here. Every song is so over the top. She needed to take a much more subtle approach on some of these songs and the overall result would have been better. I’d give the album – as a whole – 3 stars. A number of the individual tracks are at least 4 stars but the problem is that there’s too much intensity and similarity when they’re all put together. Full review at http://www.kammentary.com/2011/11/album-review-ceremonials-by-florence.html

Miele
November 5, 2011 at 8:36 am

Dude, this is at least a four star album. How could Lungs have received 4 stars, but this one is only 3 and a half? It’s much more mature than Lungs, and what you call a lack of variety is what I call cohesiveness. It’s great that songs like “Kiss With a Fist” and “Cosmic Love” could exist on the same album, but sometimes that album’s lack of focus also served as a weakness. Ceremonials is quite varied without being all over the place, it just doesn’t sound like a compilation of random songs like “Lungs”. I also disagree that there’s a lack of intimacy in the vocals. Again, that’s a criticism that would’ve been much more apt for Lungs, where her goal seemed to be to compete with the music in loudness. Her vocals are more refined on this album, and she’s finally found a way to balance the power of her voice with the music. She’s no longer shouting. I don’t think this is by any means a bad review, I just think you were a bit stingy with the rating.

Ryan
November 4, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Decent review, though I have to disagree with your comment about “Seven Devils” having a forgettable melody – I think it’s one of the most memorable tracks on the album, and (aside from “Shake It Out” and “What The Water Gave Me”, which I’ve listened to countless times) it is frequently the song to get stuck in my head. Also, as an avid Dubstep listener, I can’t comprehend what you’re referring to when you say that “Spectrum” has a dubstep beat.

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