Florence And The Machine - Ceremonials

Lungs, Florence & The Machine’s debut album, was a bit of a slow-burner; I don’t think I quite realized how much I liked it until it had been out for nine months or so. By that time, of course, Florence Welch had achieved some sort of stealthy cultural omnipresence. She performed on SNL and at the VMAs, and “Dog Days Are Over” showed up in about a million commercials and TV trailers. It was almost like the entire universe decided that Lungs was a really good album around the same time I did. So it’s great to see Welch and friends building on that success by absolutely going for it on every song on Ceremonials, the big follow-up. The new Florence album is one that builds on the strengths of its predecessor, irons out most of the weaknesses, and strains for absolute hugeness whenever possible. It’s everything a sophomore album should be.

As it was before, and as it will probably always be, the big selling point for Florence & The Machine is still Welch’s voice, a titanic growly white-soul bellow that always sounds like it’s ready for another huge note. And one of the best things about Ceremonials is the way Welch and her collaborators have put in work to make sure the music is as grand and overwhelming as that voice. By the end of the first song, we’ve heard strings, pianos, pounding kettle drums, and whooping background choirs, and that’s probably one of the slighter songs on the LP. “Shake It Out,” the first proper single, is every bit the equal of “Dog Days Are Over,” with the sort of steamrolling festival-crushing chorus that Welch sounds like she was born to deliver. And the album continues like that: Big sounds, big notes, gigantic crashing orchestra noises on every song. Florence is not playing around on this one. There’s no false modesty, no restraint. I’m terrible at predicting stuff like this, but I can’t remember the last time I was this sure an album would be massively popular.

It’s a long way away from being a perfect album. The just-leaked deluxe edition with the bonus tracks is nearly 90 minutes long, and it could stand to be half of that. All the cathedrals-in-the-sky orchestration does get a bit old after a while, at least on first listen. But these are well-written songs with huge hooks, and the whole thing radiates a real sense of clarity about what it wants to be. Welch clearly wants to be the heir to Kate Bush — not just the idiosyncratic art-pop singer-songwriter Kate Bush, but also the Kate Bush that stayed in the Top Of The Pops rotation all through the ’80s. And on the first couple of listens, Ceremonials sure sounds like the album that’ll get her there.

Ceremonials is out 11/1 on Island/Universal Republic.

Comments (26)
  1. This album is shit hot. I love it.

  2. Why do people keep mentioning Kate Bush? She sounds NOTHING like Kate Bush vocal wise and Bush is and always has been quite left of the middle. Florence’s music, while striking, triumphant and towering is nothing more than mainstream pop, and touches no where near the experimental prowess of Bush. Welch has a very soulful, bottom of the whiskey barrel voice whereas Bush is ethereal and other-wordly. Bush has always relied on non-conventional song structures and Welch’s music is pretty much formulaic in it’s structure. Welch has hooks. Bush rarely does. It makes me wonder if these music journalists have ever actually listened to Kate Bush. Or is it just cool to mention her name? In other news, I quite like the new Florence record, even though I’m pretty resigned to the fact that we’ll hear most of those tracks in every fucking movie trailer for the next year.

    • They both have red hair though.

    • Flo has an adjacent asthetic to Kate Bush, but it’s not at all a by-the-numbers approach or a shady appropriation. As a fan of both, I see how people can make the comparisons, but KB’s influence is just a spice in this stew, not the whole recipe.

    • Yeah, if I had a nickel for every time someone compared a female musical artist to Kate Bush, the number of nickels I would have would almost equal the number of times people have said “If I had a…”

      Also, while Florence may make mainstream pop, it is at least kind of left of center in that field. (Though I am not arguing that it’s as out there than Kate Bush.)

  3. I felt her debut was kind of poorly timed in that I had been inundated with so many mediocre female songwriters at that point, it made it hard for me to want to listen to her, but good on Flo for going the distance on Ceremonials. Taking the female pop songwriter pedestal to higher level is what glossy music like this needs.

  4. Nathan, I think you’re thinking of Tori Amos. Kate Bush is brunette.

    • Naturally a brunette but a quick google image search shows that for at least a while Kate Bush was rocking a reddish/copper dye job. They also seem to both like leaves and flowers and shit from what I have noticed.

      • Just searched and you’re right, some of the older pics of her do show her sporting coppery hair. Not quite Florence or Tori red, but yeah, I can see it! Never noticed that. ;)

        • Out of politeness (read: fear of downvotes) I wasn’t going to say anything, but I’m glad someone threw their hat into the “Kate doesn’t have red hair!” debate. And oh, huh – so she did go the ginger route for a minute, didn’t she? I learned something new today.

  5. I know the word is overused, but this is one of the most epic things ever recorded. It has the arena hugeness of peak-era U2 combined with a gospel-choir-singing-to-god aesthetic that, in my opinion, makes the songs more like hymns to the higher powers of music.

    It’s certainly not without faults, and the scope does get a little overwhelming at times — it’s like lying on your back, looking at the stars, and trying to imagine how far away they are.

    But it’s one of the better records of the year in meters or in yards.

  6. I’m about 20 seconds into the first song and this is exploding my brain.

    (good exploding)

  7. The first three songs are quite the 1-2-3 punch. It helps that “Shake It Out” and “What the Water Gave Me” were previewed, because those songs back-to-back are a lot to process. Knowing them and hearing them in succession is a whole lotta bigness. Another great 1-2 punch happens soon after: There’s “Breaking Down”, which sounds like Flo and the gang are on some serious ELO shit (I levitated a little upon hearing this one) and “Lover to Lover”, which could only be more divalicious if Annie Lennox herself were to materialize in the mix. There’s not a yawner in the bunch. Yeah, the “deluxe” version floating around is a little lengthy, but the core album is muscular and substantial. The extras are extra-ey. But they’re good extras! Oh, I love this album. Yup. Absolutely.

    • I think you might have inadvertently resolved the controversy below about the extent to which Florence is or is not “the new Kate Bush,” to put it in Internet. Ceremonials, as a whole, strikes me as being much more substantially influenced by Annie Lennox than Kate Bush. Her whole new-wave-R&B thing sort of predicts what Florence and Epworth are doing here, and while Florence has a voice that’s just a whole hell of a lot bigger than Kate or Annie could’ve dreamed of having, she’d definitely more in the latter’s camp.

  8. Does the above streaming box work?!
    I press play but it starts to skip all the tracks and i don’t hear anything…

  9. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  10. Un álbum como Ceremonials es lo que engrandece a la música contemporánea, es el tipo de álbum que al escucharlo te produce lo que la buena música produce, adicción por lo bueno. Un disco como este no puede pasar desapercibido, porque si eso ocurriese, la industria musical debería preocuparse. Un álbum tan transparente como este, vale y mil veces la pena escucharlo, esto es a lo que llamo un glorioso segundo disco para corroborar que el éxito del primero, era por algo… algo grande. Florence Welch, tú llegaste para quedarte querida, y muchos estamos felices por eso.

  11. I really dug Lungs from the onset, even if her tendency to turn almost every song up to 11 did grate on me for a while. But still–really solid album, and I was thrilled to see it get all the attention it did, since it (and Dog Days!) deserved it.
    On first listen I’m not super into this turn towards more of a, as you put it, “cathedral-in-the-sky” feel (so that makes me think you might be right about this being an even bigger album for her commercially). Though, granted, I was not actually expecting to like Ceremonials as much as I did like Lungs.

    Also, again just judging from first listen, but I’m really liking the deluxe edition songs! I wasn’t expecting the demo for “What the Water Gave Me” to be more electronic, I kind of like it more than the album version…

  12. four songs and even though i am drunk i am lovin it big time

    big time you guys

  13. I’ll reserve final judgment til I get my hands on a physical copy…but the mastering of this album does a HUGE disservice to the quality and effort of the songwriting/production. It’s a victim to the loudness wars…’Shake It Out’ looks like a brick in wave form…horrendous! No air and no dynamic range, which really sucks because I think the quality in performance and song is there but this brickwall mastering is hit…who mastered this?

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