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Album Review

by Florence and the Machine


Review Date
27th October, 2011
Reviewed by
Courtney Sanders

‘Shake it Out’, the second track on Florence Welch’s sophomore album succinctly cements the overall statement of Ceremonials. It’s a clarion call, to detractors and fans alike: this is me, and while you can take it or leave it, you’re not going to be able to ignore it.

Welch signed to a major on the back of spoken-word demos (‘Bird Song’) and collaborations with artists like Lightspeed Champion; more the darling of London’s performance art world than a pop star. But there was always commercial potential: channeling the vintage intrigue of heroes Grace Slick and Joni Mitchell and presenting with talent to support it, she was an obvious ‘package’ arriving at a time ripe to lead a bevy of female singer-songwriters (La Roux, anyone?) to stardom and provide a more established chanteuses a platform for transferring their craft to the mainstream.

Her debut album – and Mercury Prize nominated - Lungs was reflective of this balance between alternative roots and burgeoning superstar status as tracks like ‘Kiss Like a Fist’ arrived in roguish, D.I.Y manner while others – ‘Dog Days are Over’, ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up)’ – married her inimitable vocals with a sound equally as loud and impressive.

Lungs proved Welch’s ability to write a hit and the question with her sophomore - as with many – was whether she could do so consistently, and moreover whether she even wanted to or would deliver a more experimental product second time around. Ceremonials doesn’t just answer this question with the former, it takes said question and buries it under track after track of huge, wholly realized pop ballads, entirely remiss of any teething problems Lungs presented.

Track ‘No Light No Light’ is dramatic and operatic. Welch bellows “I’m going to raise the stakes” to an eerie piano melody and intricate, organic percussion, while backing vocals and overdubs of Welch’s wail are introduced in the chorus for a ghoulish, forceful personification of the lyric at hand. As the layers of vocal harmony crescendo one literally feels swallowed into Welch’s world and considering the vivid construction of it it’s none surprising.

There are suggestions of quirkier influences at work later in Ceremonials, too. ‘Heartlines’ has an almost Scandinavian synchronicity to the relationship between music and the bleak, everlasting outdoors: her vocal laps from a whisper to a scream, while a sparse drum beat and harsh synthesizer conjures Icelandic nothingness of which Efterklang and Wildbirds and Peacedrums pioneer.

Welch’s infatuation with the natural – and supernatural – world is reflected in the lyrical observations of every song both grouping the tracks together and effortlessly marrying the whimsical percussion and piano melodies to a vivid metaphorical landscape. Ceremonials – and Florence Welch herself, in fact – is a whole, in which there are few gaps or oversights. It’s slick and accessible while retaining a trace of the quirk that garnered her initial attention.

Ms. Welch is the real deal rather than a product of the...machine, and when she asks “You want a revelation? You want a revolution? Tell me what you want me to say” it's rhetorical; Florence Welch knows exactly what she’s talking about.


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