Florence + The Machine's 'Ceremonials'

Florence + The Machine's 'Ceremonials'

  • Article by: Daryl Sanders
  • Posted: 11/04/2011

It is not surprising that Florence Welch has traded the rawness and intimacy of Lungs, her highly successful debut from 2009, for a larger, more polished sound on her sophomore effort, Ceremonials. That is the choice artists usually make — or have made for them — when their first album is a big hit.

Fans drawn to the honest simplicity of Lungs may be disappointed by Ceremonials. There is nothing on the new album as frantic or in-your-face as “Kiss With A Fist.” Nor is there anything as up-close-and-personal as “Girl With One Eye.” The more dance-oriented songs on Lungs, like “Howl” and “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up),” are the jumping-off point for the material on Ceremonials.

In general, the work of Welch’s superb backing band The Machine is far-less prominent on this record. Producer Paul Epworth, who cowrote most of the material with Welch, took the artist and her band in a heavily produced pop/dance direction with Welch’s vocals and Chris Hayden’s drums prominent in the mix. After the success of Lungs, Welch naturally was given a significantly larger recording budget and Epworth took advantage of that, using a string section on a majority of the album, as well as other additional musicians, arrangers and programmers. On most tracks, the rest of The Machine — guitarist Roger Ackroyd, keyboardist Isabella Summers, bassist Mark Saunders and harpist Tom Monger — are part of a majestic wash of background instruments and backing vocals.

While Ceremonials is not the eclectic mix of music that endeared Lungs to so many fans, it is nevertheless an outstanding record in its own right, albeit one guided by larger-than-life pop principles.

The one thing the new record has in common with the first is they are both ultimately successful because of Welch’s compelling compositions and her stirring singing. Her lyrics and melodies here are both memorable and meaningful, and her burning vocal performances throughout this record place her at the top of the current crop of British neo-soul chanteuses, and put her in the discussion of the greatest of all time.

After the success of Lungs, Welch suffered a bout of depression, and her struggles with that are reflected extensively in the lyrics of the Ceremonials song cycle. But don’t be mistaken — ultimately, this is an album of victory, not one of defeat; yet it is unquestionably about ceremony and ritual, two powerful allies in the fight against one’s demons.

There are no inferior songs on this record, and the album will likely yield a number of hit singles. Songs like the opener “Only If For A Night,” “Shake It Out,” “No Light, No Light,” “All This And Heaven Too” and the closer “Leave My Body” provide an anthemic framework for Welch’s tales of triumph over personal struggles.

But it is on the funky, sensual tracks “Never Let Me Go” and “Lover To Lover” that she connects the dots to the greatest of the British soul divas — from Dusty Springfield to Annie Lennox to Amy Winehouse to herself. And the fact that the 25-year-old Welch can make that connection at such a young age not only speaks volumes about this record, but holds much promise for her future as a recording artist.

 

 

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