Album Review: Florence + the Machine - Ceremonials

by Mark Wheat

For me, the success of Florence + the Machine was one of the biggest musical surprises of last year. It wasn't because she's not talented of course, but because her version of epic pop, with quirky twists and turns has never really sold as well before. In an era when nothing's selling... that's bizarre. She had multiple hit singles sold platinum in the USA and was even featured on "Glee" the TV show that signifies crossover success these days. She comes from the same school as Björk, Kate Bush, but maybe Tori Amos is the nearest comparison to have similar success.

She should take a leaf out of Tori's playbook too and try to be less epic... at least some of the time. Every song on this new collection seems to be striving for the grand orchestrated statement, lots of drama, but little variation in form or intensity. She had so much success with her debut Lungs she perhaps feels too much pressure to make every song live up to the expectations and be effective in front of the huge festival crowds that she'll be expected to perform in front of.

Considering this is only the second release, it may be unfair criticism, especially as we assume that few will partake in the album as a whole, but the real problem might be the lack of any obvious follow up Big Hits! "What The Water Gave Me" has been on our charts for several weeks already and is the only one that has a big enough hook in the chorus. The rest might grow on me, especially "Seven Devils" and "Leave My Body", but only if I start hearing them as singles because I'm afraid I might not go back to listening to the album in its entirety. It's just too tiring, to stay at the exhausting high intensity that Flo' maintains for so long.

The album starts with a great sample of church bells ringing and Florence recounting a childhood memory, but the choir-like voices that work effectively in this opening song "Only For A Night", don't just hang around only for that song, they reappear over and over. I enjoy how she interlaces seemingly disparate musical elements like harps and shredding guitars, and you have to admire the quality of her voice. Reading a recent live review the author noted that one of the biggest cheers of the night was for a high note held for a long time, probably the one in the bridge of "No Light, No Light." Seldom is such pure skill given much credit in the ironic world of indie music, but one can't help think of Adele. Will she be able to keep performing at those heights night after night in the rigorous touring schedules that are expected of new artists now, desperate to cash-in on what is always assumed to be their brief window of opportunity?

Are there good tunes here? A few, as mentioned above. You know me, the lyrics man, so what about the words? What's going on in Flo's universe that she's letting us in on? Well... she doesn't want the "arms of the ocean" to ever let her go... she's breaking down and falling down, but that's alright ... you can choose what stays and what fades away...just keep following the heartlines on your hand. But the heart is hard to translate, it has a language all its own ...and it never makes sense to me at all?!

Ceremonials is an appropriate title, every song is epic enough to be used as a dramatic processional, but if the ceremony lasted too long it would become histrionic, diluting the effect.