Review: Florence + The Machine “Ceremonials”
The lady with the ten foot tall voice is back. Ceremonials is the follow up to her 2009 debut Lungs, the epic sound which spawned epic sales and rapidly sold out gigs pretty much worldwide. So how do you follow that? Lesser mortals might not even attempt it, but not Florence Welch…
First of all, comparing anything to her first album would be pointless. What was obviously the fruit of many years of songwriting and collaborations confounded all critics, leaving some to wonder if they could award six out of five stars somehow. How was she going to top it? Would she just retire to the Cotswolds in a cloud of chiffon and not even attempt it? No, it would appear not. She stuck with long time collaborator Isa “The Machine” Summers, kept on the same producer as album #1, booked time in Abbey Road studios and gave it a good old bash. I’m glad to report that the sophomore slump can’t be applied in the case of Ceremonials, but on first listen, you probably won’t be blown away. That’s no bad thing. This album is a bit of a grower, or an onion, if you will, (think layers, not vegetables, work with my metaphor) which might make you sniff a bit, but in the good, life-affirming, way. That’ll be the sweeping orchestrations then, if you’re a fan you’ll be glad to hear that they did indeed retain the harpist. This album won’t stop you in your tracks like the first time you heard Cosmic Love, but there’s still plenty to inspire on this offering.
So much was made of what were deemed lazy comparisons to Kate Bush, PJ Harvey, Bjork and so on, I was cautious of the immediate instinct to think “hmm, that one’s a bit like…” but then I thought, why not? On many of the songs on this album, you hear similarities to others in the first verse, and your mind floats to Tori Amos or Bat For Lashes, but then along comes the chorus, her voice soars, and there’s no mistaking it – her unique ability to absolutely give it socks with every note that she sings. All the aforementioned get a nod, but her sound is her own. Chamber Soul, she calls it!
Lead single Shake it Out will doubtless be up there with all the firm favourites from Lungs, it has the quiet intro then thumpy beats then soaring feel good chords that wouldn’t go amiss at an Arcade Fire concert (I did manage to get tickets for their gig! Balls in your court, Flo, you know how to find me…) It’s probably the best getting ready to go out song I’ve heard for some time, best played at full whack while you’re throwing on your glad rags and preparing for what you know will be a great night.
Another standout is Breaking Down, sad lyrics belied by fabulously swervy strings and an insanely catchy pop beat. The earworm potential for this one is high, so I expect it’ll be a single sooner or later. I would guess the same for Lover to Lover and Heartlines, but that’s all the guessing I’ll be doing on this one – Ceremonials is definitely an evolution, not a departure. The angst levels are lower, which makes sense as I read that Lungs was a break-up album. In that case, Ceremonials is “going steady”, and that’s perfectly fine too.