Review: Florence + The Machine’s “Ceremonials”
November 11, 2011
There’s no denying it, 2011 has been a great year for music. With amazing releases, from mainstream artists such as Lady GaGa, Adele and Coldplay, to indie acts like Foster the People and Bon Iver, there has been no shortage of critical acclaim. And now, they are joined by Florence and the Machine’s sophomore album “Ceremonials,” released Oct. 31.
“Ceremonials” is the long-anticipated follow up to the 2009 debut “Lungs,” which contained the controversial “Kiss With a Fist” and the chart-topper which made her big on the States side, “Dog Days Are Over.” “Lungs” was full of songs about romances gone wrong, violence and intense personal spirituality. In “Ceremonials” she’s still dealing with her demons, but in a colossal, cosmic, earth-shattering way.
The album, recorded in Abbey Road Studios, is bigger, darker and more theatrical than its predecessor. This is a tough task, too, but there’s a reason why this album is topping charts worldwide, and debuted number one in the United Kingdom.
Florence draws from eclectic musical influences, classic rock, blues, goth, even gospel, to create her unique sound that makes it difficult to classify within just one genre. She describes it as “bass-heavy, drum-heavy, apocalyptic choir… apocalypto-pop!” But it all sounds put together and seems to follow with the same ethereal, depressing – in the best way, of course – moody sound, rather than the variation of songs that “Lungs” was.
The album opener, a ballad “Only if for a Night,” sets the pace of the album – musically and lyrically. The song conveys images of ghosts and graveyards and running away with lost loves. Throughout the album, it’s as if her goal in the record was to haunt us listeners, her voice transmits pain and longing in a rare way only some can achieve.
“Shake it Out,” the second track and single, is the standout. The track, supposedly inspired by a bad hangover, is about new beginnings and rebirth, (“I am done with my graceless hearth/so tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart/ cause I like to keep my issues strong/ it’s always darkest before the dawn.”) It’s the kind of song that’s dark and deep – but with her voice powerful as ever, and the guitars and keyboards roaring – could quickly become the new favorite.
The first single from the album, “What the Water Gave Me,” was inspired by the suicide of poet Virginia Woolf and sets the dark, moody theme of the record. It starts slowly, her voice crooning about time and ends with howling over the sound of organs as the chorus builds, ending with a bang.
But the sophomore album does have its slumps. One of the weak points comes near the middle, with the tracks “Seven Devils” and “Heartlines.” They’re not bad songs, it’s just that at five minutes each, they seem to drag on. Not to mention, they follow powerhouses such as “Never Let Me Go,” “Lover to Lover” and “No Light, No Light” — some tough acts to follow.
Aside from that, the album quickly gets back on track, followed closely with “All of this and Heaven Too,” which is one of her best lyrical moments. Ironic, considering it’s about the frustration of being incapable to communicate (“Words, poor language/doesn’t deserve such treatment/And all my stumbling phases never amounted/to anything worth this feeling.”)
The album closer “Leave My Body” evokes classic rock among harps, drums, bells and tambourines. It’s a song about rejecting the world and loneliness (“I don’t want your future/I don’t need your past”) that’s the perfect album closer, ending in as strong as a note as it started.
Without a doubt, this album deserves a listen, both for new fans and Florence fans alike. It’s often hard to surpass such a strong debut like “Lungs,” but magically Florence does just that. Whereas “Lungs” felt more personal, “Ceremonials” feels bigger, and as if she’s ready to take on the audience and sing for whomever will hear.
In “No Light, No Light” she sings about how “you can’t choose what stays and what fades away,” but it’s certain that she wont be fading away in a long, long time.