Review Summary: It’s a melody, it’s a final cry, it’s a symphony.
Florence Welch’s sophomore album is a rarity. Many records possess the quality of being dark
, but all too often do they fail to transcend the musical or lyrical approach that drove them to such claustrophobic, suffocating corners to begin with. Darkness isn’t synonymous with “devoid of any and all hope”, yet so many artists confine themselves to that rigid definition. Florence and the Machine, on the other hand, is a band whose dark traits are matched equally by their ability to triumph over their demons, giving listeners a reason to dance where other may cower in defeat. The way that their second album, Ceremonials
, pulls you down to unimaginable depths but still manages to resuscitate you every time is what makes it relatable and real
. After all, happiness is often preceded by remarkable trials, or as the quote from the album’s lead single ‘Shake It Out’ perfectly articulates, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” Ceremonials
’ duality is what gives it such a satisfyingly mysterious element - it is conspicuously morose without being hopeless, but it never completely brings you into the light either. In the end, it proves to be just as lost as we are - making it a useless compass through life but invaluable as a confidant.
If a word existed with the sole purpose of describing Ceremonials
, it would be cathartic
. Florence and the Machine have compiled twelve epic tracks here, and each one possesses the capability to locate, connect with, and elevate your current state of mind. The driving force behind the album’s ability to transcend its mere existence as notes on a page lies within its passion; and its passion within the powerful voice of Florence Welch. Without her presence, you might as well bid adieu to the towering choruses, harrowing lyrical passages, and – in short – all of the music’s emotive qualities. Therefore, Florence’s performance on lead vocals is something worthy of celebration in itself. She makes this band what it is, and from ‘Only If For A Night’ to ‘Leave My Body’, she does Ceremonials
the same service. Her range transforms an instrumentally ordinary track like ‘Breaking Down’ into something completely spellbinding, while giving slow-burners such as ‘Seven Devils’ a sinister touch. Of course, we all know she is capable of completely taking over a song, as she does in ‘Shake It Out’ and the chill-inducing, tribal closer ‘Leave My Body.’ If there’s one thing you can count on, it is that Florence’s voice will in some way reach
you, and in that way Ceremonials
is one of the most affecting albums to be released in the past few years.
In a strictly instrumental sense, “The Machine” component to Florence’s bewitching vocals holds up just as well as it did on Lungs
. There may not be a ‘Dog Days Are Over’ to make the album’s existence felt on radio stations everywhere, but make no mistake – Ceremonials
is an equally effective, if less immediate, follow-up to the band’s renowned debut. The drums still echo like thunderstorms rolling across a desolate plain, while each pluck of the guitar rings with elegance beyond what is earthly. The only issue is that the instruments in general have all
been scaled back, forcing Florence and the Machine to rely primarily on drums to fill the same space that was once occupied by multiple instruments. However, with the talent that they have on vocals, there is hardly a lack of sound to fill out the record. The stripped-down approach actually works more in their favor, concocting a ritualistic, tribe-like atmosphere that compliments Welch’s skill set far better than any approach taken on Lungs
. It comes up short by comparison in terms of catchy, immediately accessible material, but it also provides us with more depth. Considering the tone that Ceremonials
takes from the start, that is a far more valuable asset than any sing-along chorus.
Between the unwavering vocal presence of Florence Welch and the bare-bones musical approach taken by her Machine, Ceremonials
is an album that relies on the emotional reaction of the listener in order for it to achieve its desired impact. In that sense, the record might best be heard at a crossroads – when it seems like your past is bogging you down, preventing the illumination of your future. It covers all possible ups and downs, nudging you towards the light at the end of the tunnel just when you deem it futile to keep looking. Sometimes, this comes with the simplest offering of perspective…“It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back, so shake him off”…In that case, I suggest we get our dance on.