There is nothing small about Florence Welch and her ‘machine.’ Ever since her debut album, Lungs, which underscored Florence’s capability to gust under her own steam, the singer has not ceased to amaze audiences and critics alike with her theatrical, almost possessed-looking performances, dark lyrics and overall mythical sound.
If Lungs was loud and hard, then the Machine’s latest, Ceremonials, is louder, hits even harder, but somehow appears softer. Ceremonials is a power-house record that mixes the romantic and the gothic and would sound best on an Olympian mount than on stage. “It was all so strange/ and so surreal/ that a ghost should be so practical,” Florence laments at the wish to become a ghost in “Only if for a Night.”
No one can make darkness sound so romantic quite as Welch does with this second effort. “I’m always dragging that horse around/ And our love is pastured such a mournful sound/ Tonight I’m gonna bury that horse in the ground,” she sings in the single “Shake It Out,” a song about leaving old demons behind and starting anew.
Welch’s lyrics draw intense, dark imagery reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories. Demons are a recurring theme, like in the ballad “Seven Devils.” There is definitely something to be said about her capability to recount fables. The songs are part cautionary tales, part hymns. She is like the mythical Cassandra, whose specialty was predicting tragedy. Only Welch also has an entire Greek chorus backing her up, while nobody paid attention to Cassandra, the party-pooper of Greek mythology.
Florence and the Machine demand your attention, their songs can’t go unnoticed, because they attack your senses with harps, strings, keyboards and Welch’s wonderful, lungful, heartful, mournful voice. Oftentimes, all the instruments aren’t enough to overwhelm her, like in “No Light, No Light” and “Spectrum,” a harp-dominated delicacy.
Overall, Ceremonials bears its name more than well. The songs are so demanding, you feel like some religious ritual is taking place the entire time. That ritual consists mostly in Florence Welch’s (or her character’s) attempt for redemption. The desire to become some kind of better person, or a poet, is felt in all the songs, and this is best expressed in “All This and Heaven Too,” an honest confession of her own incapability to express her love with words.
The album is a constant high, which some might regard as a creative flaw. Even the ballads turn into marching anthems or gospels mid-way through (as the closing “Leave My Body”). But to others, this is how Florence and the Machine turn breakdown into rebirth.
Key tracks: “Shake it Out,” “No Light, No Light,” “All This and Heaven Too”
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