Music review: ‘Ceremonials’ by Florence and the Machine

October 31, 2011
Florence and the Machine
Ceremonials

Ceremonials,” the much-anticipated follow-up to Florence and the Machine’s critically acclaimed debut “Lungs,” is an unabashedly big record — big beats, big themes, big choruses and effects. It’s also a lot to process, especially with nine of its dozen outsize tracks pushing or exceeding the five-minute mark. But let the majesty and bombast wash over you and not only do these performances redeem their rococo excesses, they deliver their share of catharsis as well.

Even bigger than the music, though, is the neo-operatic warble of frontwoman Florence Welch, a singer whose emotionally wrought approach is at times reminiscent of singers such as Sinead O’Connor, Polly Jean Harvey and Kate Bush. In “Lover to Lover,” riding piano, handclaps and a gospel-soul groove, Welch’s full-throated vocals recall Annie Lennox teaming up, in womanly solidarity, with Aretha Franklin in “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves.”

Produced by Paul Epworth (Bloc Party, Adele), the tracks tend to build gradually, opening with stark, breathy atmospherics before giving way to billowy choruses, ecstatic chanting and — on the likes of “Breaking Down” and the title track — echo-laden Wall of Sound arrangements. Leading off with dark keyboard figures and an ominous cymbal roll, “Seven Devils” adds gothic overtones, while “All This and Heaven Too” fuses R&B rhythms and celestial voices to otherworldly effect.

If Welch’s fraught lyrics lean toward vagueness and cliché — “All my stumbling phrases never amounted to anything worth this feeling,” she admits at one point — the music and the voices are vivid enough, signifying plenty all by themselves.

— Bill Friskics-Warren

Recommended Tracks

“Lover to Lover,” “Shake It Out,” “Breaking Down”

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