Florence + The Machine

Island, 2011


REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


Amp up the drama quotient! That’s the first thought that came to me upon listening to baroque pop masters Florence + The Machine’s second release, Ceremonials. Lead singer Florence Welch’s voice sounds even stronger than it did on Lungs, especially on the stark lead-off power ballad “Only If For A Night.” She certainly pushes her range on the challenging “Spectrum,” which brings back the harp and drums combo that have become this act’s signature.

The first two singles are what really set the tone, however. The radio-friendly “Shake It Out” starts out with the poignant line, “Regrets collect like old friends,” before releasing itself into an uplifting, spiritual fervor as they did on “Dog Days Are Over” two years prior. Then there’s “What The Water Gave Me” to prove just how fleshed out F+M’s sound has become. Clearly, their hard work to beat the sophomore slump has paid off handsomely.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

On the main album, there are three songs that jump out for me the most: “Breaking Down” is definitely in my top five from this band. That hypnotic voice! Those dramatic strings! The other-worldly piano! Why this wasn’t a single is beyond comprehension. The same goes for “Seven Devils,” a swirling descent into the hell realm that couldn’t be more enticing. Then on “Lover To Lover,” we are treated to more virtuoso piano playing by Isabella Summers. Coupled with more charged vocals by Flo, it all adds up to one dynamic showstopper.

There is a lot of lyrical repetition (“Never Let Me Go” is like tarpaper and the title “No Light No Light” says all you need to know) that hinder the album just slightly from being the masterpiece it so rightly deserves to be, though it does have an amazing effect when things take a welcome electronic detour on the pulsating bonus track “Remain Nameless.” Trust me, you’ll be singing the infectious line “Call me when you need me…” just as much when you hear it. Again, why are all the best songs bonus tracks on Deluxe editions that most people other than hardcore fans never get to hear?!? As perfect a storybook ending as “All This And Heaven Too” is, you must hear “Bedroom Hymns.” Don’t let that song title fool you, it’s anything but soft and gentle. It’s a MONSTER that really closes the album out on a “where did that come from” moment.

Honestly, there are only two songs that you could probably do without. The bonus track “Leave My Body” sinks us down into the same abyss just one too many times, while “Heartlines” is simply too pronounced and over-the-top with its melodramatics. I had to stifle a laugh here, because all I could think about was the image of Florence doing an Indian rain dance to it. She’s not the most physically coordinated performer in the world…she recently jumped off the stage at Coachella and broke her foot. Methinks she is seriously lacking in adrenaline too, so it’s probably a good thing most of her songs are on the slow side.

Ceremonials is even more cohesive a set of tunes than Lungs was, as if this was even humanly possible. The question that remains now is: can they top this? Will their third time out be the charm? Stay tuned…

Rating: A-

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