Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Music Album Review: Ceremonials by Florence and the Machine

"Ceremonials" is a strong effort, a more streamline ride than "Lungs", yet it lacks the venom the debut album had.
“Ceremonials” is Florence and the Machine’s second album, and was released last October, just over three months ago. Florence's first effort, "Lungs" was a huge success primarily because of brilliant rendition of "You've Got the Love", originally sung by The Source and Candi Staton, which. I haven't reviewed "Lungs" in full before but I wrote about it when I put it at #10 in my Top 20 Albums of the Naughties, and rated it ****1/4 stars. What are my thoughts on this album then? Is it better or worse than "Lungs"? Before I get into that I want to talk about Florence a little.

Florence Welch fronts "Florence and the Machine", which, not too dissimilar to Nine Inch Nails and Trent Reznor, is the focal and vocal point of the band, the rest of the band play on tour and sometimes in the studio. But the band is all about Florence Welch, she's the mastermind of the project and is the commander, so to speak. Florence, remarkably, is only 25 years old but seems incredibly mature and you wouldn't expect a woman as young as Florence to make the deep and soulful music she is capable of making. Her voice is what makes the band work so well, she combines gospel, soul, blues, folk and opera. But the music also backs that up amazingly, using a mixture of hippy and psychedelic sounds, large African-style drums and that folk and indie music we spoke of earlier. There's a lot of great singers coming out from Britain in recent years, including Duffy and Adele, but Florence is above that in my opinion. She backs her amazing vocals up with excellent music, and an innovating style. She is THE female icon of Britain in music at the moment, in my opinion, regardless of if you like pop, rock, indie, metal, modern or older music. Florence released "Lungs" two years ago, and it was met with critical and commercial acclaim. "Ceremonials" has also sold well, and has been received well too. Lets get into my thoughts on the album.

The album starts off with "Only if for a Night", which is as grand in sound as many of Florence's tracks off the first album. If you compare this intro to that of the first album which was "Dog Days Are Over", then you can immediately tell that this album is taking a different direction. "Lungs" mixed all of Florence's musical tastes and influences. Put it this way, the majestic drums are not as prominent on this track as they are on "Dog Days". But the album does have many twists and turns as it goes on, just like "Lungs" does. "Only if for a Night" definitely as an opener is good as it contrasts that of "Lungs" and sets the tone of the album well.

The second track is also the second single off the album, which was "Shake it Out". I believe this should have been the first single as it's a great track; it grabs your attention really well and has a good amount in it to attract both the pop fanbase Florence has and the indie fanbase. Florence is so incredibly gifted that she attracts so many different fans with different music tastes, and this song is pretty damn cool; it's short and sweet, yet striking and hard at the same time. There's a lot of gospel in this track too, not to dissimilar to Kate Bush, someone I've seen Florence compared to many a time whilst researching other reviewers opinion on this album.

The third track is "What the Water Gave Me", which was the debut single off the track. My feelings on "What the Water Gave Me" are mixed, not because of the quality, that's prominent. But I disagree with its choice of being the highlight single for the album's promotion. The track doesn't stand out as much as other songs on the album and its style doesn't feel have that majestic feeling evident on other songs. I think proof of this is with the disappointing chart position the single got; getting to only #24, "Shake it Out" did twice as good getting to #12. As I said I like this track, I just disagree with the choice of putting it as the highlight single. That being said I've disagreed with the choices for singles off the first album as well.

After the two album's singles, we're treated to "Never Let Me Go", which is one of the more beautifully sung arrangements on the album. I always said that Florence reminds me of Dolores O'Riordan of The Cranberries due to Florence's ability to sing in so many stunning ways, as well as howling graciously. This is one of those songs. "Never Let Me Go" is an incredibly crafted piece of work, and vocally, it's one of the best songs.

We're then treated to three great songs off the album, first with "Breaking Down". Now, Florence mixes so many genres and styles into her music but the one genre she didn't really touch upon on "Lungs" is glam rock. But "Breaking Down" is a brilliant glam rock track. As odd as it sounds, I can hear a lot of Marc Bolan in this track, as well as, dare I say it, Gary Glitter. Obviouslly it's a purely female song but it's the music, the way Florence sings with the ricochet vocal effects and most importantly, the echoed drums in the background. "Breaking Down" is a glam rock song twisted and distorted to suit a modern gospel Florence and the Machine. It's absolutely fantastic. The second of these tracks, track six, is "Lover to Lover", takes another turn in the genres and is more eighties than seventies. There's a lot of background clapping and tambourines in this song and it just sounds so cool. Florence mixes so many genres and sounds but maintains her uncanny originality at the same time, this track is evidence of this. We're then treated to "No Light, No Light", the third single off the album, and my favourite of the three. I love the battling chorus sections of "You want a revelation/Some kind of revolution", it's a fighting track with bite but it maintains the soothing elements in the verses that Florence always somehow is able to balance. It's a great track and represents everything that is so good about Florence and the Machine.

"Seven Devils", track eight, reminds me a lot of "I'm Not Calling You a Liar" off the first album albeit music more harrowing and dare I say, gothic. It's one of the highlights of the album, the deep and heart pounding drums, the solemn verses contrasting the deep and disturbingly sung choruses. It's a gothic track through and through, it's a strong presence and is absolutely mindblowing. Following the darkness of "Seven Devils", we're treated to one of the happier yet colossal tracks of the album with "Heartlines". I love the huge drums in this track, the clapping, the excellent "Heeyaa!" chants, it's just a song full of grandeur. It's probably the 'biggest' song off the album in terms of combining so many elements that total to one song. It's an absolute belter. The tenth track, "Spectrum",  completes the high points of the album for me, the album loses steam a little from here on. "Spectrum" is a galloping climax, using a drumbeat that literally sounds like a horse running, combined with more of Florence's iconic howling, "Say my name!" she says with all her heart. It's an excellent track.

Unfortunately as I said, the album loses steam a little after this point. That's not to say the rest of the songs are crap, I just feel the album drags on a little afterwards. One of the highlights is probably "Leave My Body", another thumping track not too dissimilar to "Seven Devils" but less dark. "Remain Nameless" is another good track, and bizarrely, reminds me of a much darker version of Ultravox's "Vienna". The album ends with "Bedroom Hymns" which once again is a good track but it doesn't end the album well. I don't feel the album reaches a climax, it feels like the album was too long or too short and this track is a pause between the two. As I said I like this song, it's good, but it feels like an abrupt ending and slightly taints what is otherwise a great album.

"Ceremonials" for me is a cracking effort, if not a little inferior to its earlier sister, "Lungs". That's not a strong criticism as "Lungs" was felt almost impeccable. "Ceremonials" is a strong follow up, it has a decent amount of variety on here but once again not as much as Florence's earlier effort. There were so many strong and diversive sounds on "Lungs", not to mention it being  a stronger rock and indie sounding album, which is more towards my tastes personally.

But one thing that "Ceremonials" does in comparison to "Lungs" is make me feel that Florence is in some form of comfort zone. Sure Florence Welch, the person, has had some up and downs over the past few years as she has confessed in some interviews, but her music seems to be her comfort zone and that's definitely evident in this album. "Lungs" felt like Florence was smashing plates together in order to make music; trying and testing so many different sounds and genres and the end product being an 'in your face' and 'listen to what I can do' type of album, yet in a shy way. This album feels like Florence has listened back to "Lungs" and gone "okay, I like that sound and that sound" and then concentrated on those feelings, sentiments and certain resonances, and then "Ceremonials" is the end product of that. "Ceremonials" is a more consistent album, a more streamline ride, yet there's still more than enough genres and experimenting with sounds is still a rewarding experience.

Overall, "Ceremonials" is a strong effort, a more streamline ride than "Lungs", yet it lacks the venom the debut album had. It's more than worth a listen. If you liked the debut album you'll more than likely like this. If you like the sound of the singles, definitely give this a go. It's a fantastic album, I just quite simply, prefer "Lungs".

Rating: **** stars
Stand out tracks: "Heartlines", "Breaking Down", "Seven Devils"

Here's the music video for the third single, "No Light, No Light"

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