Capsule Review: Florence + the Machine’s Ceremonials Soars
Second album funk? It appears that Florence Welch has broken the curse.
After a quick YouTube search, any Florence Welch newbie would be able to tell that this gal has major talent when it comes to vocals. And though I consider myself a Florence + the Machine aficionado (yes, I can quote every song from Lungs, the band’s first album), nothing could have prepared me for Ceremonials ($13.99, amazon.com), the group’s November 1, 2011 release.
No, this album doesn’t feature the hip-swinging tunes you’ll catch on your favorite radio station, but sometimes the best works are meant to be enjoyed miles away from the dance floor, with a set of earphones and the surrounding silence. And don’t expect this release to warrant a half-hearted listen before it heads to back to Amazon: it is guaranteed to be one CD that’ll soon become a permanent member of your collection.
It is a rare occurrence and a real treat when a band creates a meaning-drenched album you have to play again and again simply to scratch the surface of its depth and emotion. But be warned: this exquisite work of art will lift your spirits and break your heart, all in little more than an hour.
The themes of letting go and finding a place within an oft cruel world are apparent throughout, as listeners are subjected to failed romances, past mistakes, and even visitors from the other side.
The album opens with “If Only for a Night”, the haunting tale of Florence’s ghostly encounter with her dead grandmother and continues to “Shake it Out”, a gorgeous, soaring number perfect for her powerhouse voice. Chock full of poetic and weighty lyrics like “I am done with my graceless heart/So tonight I’m going to cut it out and then restart”, this song will speak to anyone reeling from a loss or abrupt change.
The idea of moving forward comes to a head in “Leave My Body”, in which Florence sings “And I’m gonna leave my body/I’m gonna lose my mind” as she attempts to shake off a past that holds her in its grips. And for anyone on the brink of a breakup, “No Light, No Light” speaks of change, secrets, and impending loss while showcasing this artist’s amazing vocal range.
Later, in “Bedroom Hymns”, we get a serious taste of the religious influences at the album’s very core as Florence croons “This is a good a place to fall as any/We’ll build our altar here/Make me your Maria/I’m already on my knees/You had Jesus on your breath/And I caught Him in mine/Sweating out confessions/The undone and the divine.” Florence’s lush vocals continue to shine in the gospel-like “Lover to Lover”, as she manages to effortlessly convey both power and vulnerability. Quickly followed by the otherworldly “Seven Devils”, Florence’s sultry voice teams with the piano and strings to create a haunting sound all its own.
With its flawless instrumentals and dramatic vocals, “What the Water Gave Me” is yet another standout number. As the flaming haired songstress chants, “And it’s breaking over me/A thousand miles onto the sea bed/I found the place to rest my head”, the warmth of a midday summer ocean seems to drip from each pitch- perfect note. Equally memorable is the track “Heartlines”, which sounds like a tribal chant with Florence’s deep voice, pounding drums, and background singers. But the goose bump-inducing sparkle added by harp strings manages to create a mystical air throughout the song –making this yet another unforgettable addition to an album that already stands in a league of its own.
Though a mere two years have passed since the release of Florence + the Machine’s Lungs, it feels as though this young singer has aged at least a decade. When one marvels at the depth of these vocals and lyrics, which will have a hold on any listener long after the record has finished, it can be difficult to believe that a 25-year-old penned and performed each track.
In many of today’s songs, one’s twenties are portrayed as an alcohol-filled dance party (not that they’re not fun every so often) but this album is a prime example of one brilliant woman’s attempt to break free from the past and come into her own. You won’t regret buying this one.
Diana Denza is a regular contributor to BettyConfidential.