Florence and the Machine – Ceremonials

November 3, 2011

To describe Florence’s rise to ubiquitous stardom as ‘meteoric’ does it a disservice. Whilst it’s not unknown for a band- usually with a whole lot of industry machination- to pick up a world of hype and go from nowhere to massive over night, it’s far rarer for an artist to go from genuine indie credibility to unequivocal super star in the space of a single snowballing hit of an album, particularly without any jettisoning of the style and passion that allowed them to flourish in the first place. Still, that was what happened with Florence & The Machine’s debut Lungs, an album recorded with none of the pressures that have attended Ceremonials inception. There’s surely nothing harder for an artist than to follow up a career defining album with another critical and commercial smash, but it appears that on Ceremonials Florence is going to pull off this feat with some panache.

Only If For A Night opens the album, piano tinkles descending like wedding day church bells. This gives way to crunching, tempestuous (dare I say dubstep influenced?) drums, showcasing producer Paul Epworth’s considerable technical skill. Florence opens her voice out, all spirit-of-Stevie- Nicks’, singing “It’s so surreal// That a ghost should be so practical”, and the album is off to a storm lashed beginning.

The use of shock and awe persists throughout. Florence’s voice was always a powerful tool, on track after track of Ceremonials it is matched with dense lyrical content and juddering, baroque towers of sound. By now you’re sure to be aware of first single What The Water Gave Me, with its swelling hybrid of dance music builds, choral vocals and thrashing gothic guitars. These motives continue throughout, songs layered with harps, minor keys, sudden shrieking sound effects and lessons of loss. Midway through comes album highlight, the doom laden Seven Devils. With howling wind, Halloween piano and those slow pounding slave ship drums, Florence seems hellbent on recreating the Ceremonials of the album’s title. To this writer it seems that this is the track on which Florence comes out from under the long shadow cast by Kate Bush, and fully establishes a grandiose, cinematic paradigm of her own.

Whilst it was always inevitable that Ceremonials would fly to the top of the charts, it was never a sure thing that it would pick up critical acclaim. This collection of dark, emotive and finely crafted songs deserves acclaim, and should also ensure that Florence fully cements her place as a uniquely British national obsession.

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