Florence and the Machine
Nov 11, 2011 Web Exclusive
Florence Welch and her machine are here to take you to church with Ceremonials, the bombastic and bruising second album from the flame-haired British singer and her band. And you should get in the car, because with a record this epic, it's not like you have a choice: Ceremonials is like a musical Category 5 hurricane tearing through a bat mitzvah.
It's been two years since Florence and co. released Lungs, the melting pot of musical genres that powered Welch, 25, through near-constant touring and netted the newcomer dozens of accolades. Here, she and producer Paul Epworth finally unleash her hopper of new mystic-pop songs, bursting with the standard Florence-isms: mystical imagery, soaring choruses and hushed middle eights, harp interludes.
Lungs fans, take note: there are the familiar, sprawling singles, such as "Shake It Out," which is "Dog Days Are Over" part two, all ubiquitous sunny choral fare. But the stings of brilliance on Ceremonials hit like lasers beaming out from a skyline: a hint of sexual ecstasy with the "say my name" plea on "Spectrum"; the low, growling musical Pietà of "What the Water Gave Me," reportedly inspired by stories of parents who died while trying to save their children from drowning; a touch of mania on "Leave My Body."
With her breathless Annie Lennox howl, Welch could make the phone book sound like a paean to the gods. But an ambitious LP like this, backlit by harmonies and dramatic chord changes, is the perfect vehicle to showcase her voice; a less talented vocalist would crumble under its heaviness.
Whereas the songwriting on Lungs benefitted from the occasional crack in Welch's armor—on "Hurricane," for example, where seeing an ex with a new flame made her decide to "drink [her]self to death"—she allows fewer pangs of vulnerability here, because there's just no room amidst the album's spiritual aspirations. Take the chorus of "No Light, No Light," which spins a relationship's demise into a frenzied pinwheel of mixed emotions and declares the antagonist "a revelation, some kind of resolution." On the lofty Ceremonials, even a bad boyfriend can be an epiphany from on high.
This notion of Welch's music as "secular gospel" leaves us with the question of what she's trying to transcend with her lyrics, of what all of this religious imagery is trying to evoke. Obsessive love? Storybook drama? Merely using lyrics as accessories to match soaring key changes? Sometimes she spins herself too blindly into the metaphors, as on the clunky "Seven Devils" and in the inevitable moments when all the bombast turns into schmaltz ("Heartlines").
But in an indie landscape where too many artists are mired in twee phrasings and melodies, it's refreshing that Welch doesn't back away from a sophomore project of U2 proportions; she drives us around the church in circles, and then drops us off at the music festival instead. By the time she wails "I'm going to lose my mind!" in a banshee pitch towards the end of "Leave My Body," you've already gotten yourself out of her way. (www.florenceandthemachine.net)
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