Well now, if Lungs
isn’t the perfect debut for Florence Welch and her machines, then I don’t know what is. Perfect, that is, because of its imperfections. To explain my seemingly circular argument, I would like to invoke the “Funeral
Rule”: Arcade Fire’s debut was too good. The Fire’s subsequent releases, despite being excellent, have all fallen victim to Funeral’s legacy. So really what I mean when I say that Lungs was a perfect debut album is that Lungs
was a perfect debut album for Ceremonials
. Where Lungs offered us some great songs, it left enough room for us to think “what if?” That essential question is a weighty one for many artists--how do I follow this up? It’s a question about cashing in on potential, and many a promising artist has squandered this opportunity, especially in the fickle indie world. Luckily Florence and the Machine exists outside of the land of Cyclops and in the mainstream; the band just has that universal appeal that gets everyone bobbing their head and singing along and, y’know
, enjoying the music.
And so what is the answer to that question? Does Florence and Machine cash in on the potential that Lungs
provided? Well it only takes two songs, including the brilliant first single “Shake It Out” to realize that the answer is a resounding “hell yes.” These songs rollick much in the same way that Bat for Lashes’ “Glass” stampeded through the opening gates of Two Suns a few years back. “Only if for a Night” rip-roars out of the gate with rolling tom drums just like “Glass,” without the gleam of 80’s pastiche. No, because Florence here sounds in a league of her own. And it’s a sound that is continued throughout these twelve tracks, and part of the impressiveness of Ceremonials
is the amount of quality control. This brand of pop music has a history of not translating well into a full LP; the quality of singles often greatly outweighs the “filler” that makes up the rest of the record. But Florence and the Machine hardly ever dip into “filler” territory--each song has an air of carefulness about it, each composition magnificently layered to sound as big as possible.
It seems to be the theme of the year, grandiosity, as M83 have already proven how there is no such thing as “too big.” Florence apparently took this to heart because there’s no accosting at how absolutely huge these songs are. Call it neo-Humanism if you will; in a world that seems crumbling more and more each day, Florence wants to shout everything from the rafters. “It’s always darkest before the dawn” is cliché enough, but dammit if it just sounds absolutely uplifting next to that stuttering, pounding drum beat in “Shake It Out,” easily the best pop song of 2011. It’s poptimism at its finest. And it breathes throughout the record--and though that may be tiresome at times but nothing ever stalls, it may stumble slightly in parts, but it never flat out fails.
It never fails because even when trying to sound so big all the time, room is left for just enough variety. The subtly lovely “Breaking Down” moves in and out of major and minor chords to great effect; closer “Leave My Body” has just the right amount of nuance to make it feel
like an album closer (there is nothing worse than ending an album and thinking “wait, is that it?”); and “What the Water Gave Me” allows an eerie atmosphere to back an otherwise well-crafted pop song. And while Welch’s voice may seem decadent, the decadence never sacrifices the effect of the album, and more often than not it enhances it. The more ornamental touches of her vocals blend wonderfully well with the rest of the bells and whistles: harps, piano, strings, upright accordion (seriously “Shake It Out” is just too good). All the while the songs are propelled by the ever-present drumming.
has a pulse, it’s an adrenaline rush of pure pop song-craft. Forget Lady Gaga, Adele, or Coldplay; 2011’s year-in-pop belongs solely to Florence and the Machine. If Lungs was the welcome parade onto the big stage, Ceremonials
kicks everyone else off that stage. While those other acts have all produced some great songs this year, none of them touch the consistency that Florence Welch has composed here. Ceremonials
is truly one of the few recent pop LPs that works both as a collection of individual songs and as a true album
, with the right balance and flow to keep the record captivating from start to finish. And look, no stupid transparent egg needed!