Premature Evaluation: Florence + 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.