Florence + the Machine were one of the breakthrough acts of 2009, with the number one album ‘Lungs’, and relative success they’d tackled two huge obstacles that immediately take out some bands over the course of their careers. Memorable festival appearances at Glastonbury and Reading and Leeds for the summers of 09′ and 10′ followed, as they showed their intentions to stick around and prove they had more than just one or two songs. Lead singer Florence Welch’s voice has to be the star of the show, but her backing band, the ‘Machine’, have proven to be equally capable and are brilliant support for the booming vocals of Florence. So, with new album, ‘Ceremonials’, can they overcome another major obstacle in the ‘difficult second album’? Let’s find out.
Opener ‘Only If For A Night’, is a bit of a mish-mash, with it’s lyrics not really making a huge deal of sense, a theme continued throughout the album, but the music itself sounding brilliant. The use of harps, the hard, backing drums and piano are all used in moderation and for effect, sometimes opting out completely, leaving the raw power of Florence’s voice to take over, with it’s soaring quality. It’s not a bad song at all, the lyrics being a minor negative, it’s just above average and not really a true indicator of what is to come.
My personal favourite ‘Shake It Out’, is next and it’s good. It starts out quietly, but builds and builds with momentum, creating a wonderful African drum beat, that never over-does it. The lyrics again aren’t a strongpoint, talking about horses and other weird, abstract subjects, but then Florence is a little bit crazy. You don’t listen to an album like hers for the lyrics! The refrain ‘Shake it out, shake it out shake it outttt’ is just catchy enough. Recent single, ‘What the Water Gave Me’, video below, follows and is the ultimate song for buildup, giving a couple of glimpses at the fantastic chorus, before finally giving in at the 3 minute mark of the 5 minute long epic. It carries so much rhythm, causing a lot of anticipation, that when the outburst comes, it is almost jaw-dropping, a triumphant roar from the leading lady.
In ‘Never Let Me Go’, the beautiful voice of Florence, is given centre stage for a good 45 seconds. This little segment reminds the listener of what talent she possesses. The song stays subdued throughout, never crashing through violently like in the previous few songs. It’s a nice change of pace, and revises expectations of the remainder of the album. It’s as much of a ballad as the album comes close to producing. ‘Breaking Down’, is happy little song right from the off, with the music belittling Florence in a sense, making her sound a bit kooky, sounding like it sound be from a comedy. The chorus reflects this zany tone with ‘I think I’m breaking down again’. It’s again a relaxing tune, carrying the same level of ‘catchiness’ that the entire album does, making it clear to see why the band are so popular amongst the younger audience aswell as their adult counterparts.
With ‘Lover to Lover’, we reach the halfway point of this hour-long epic of an album, and it’s the first song I don’t really ‘like’. It’s decent, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not as fluent as the others in my opinion, feeling somewhat forced, parts sounding like leftovers from other songs. Florence’s voice soars still, just the rest of the song lets her down. ‘No Light, No Light’, is another slow-burner, starting from an angelic Florence complimenting the organ and backing singers supporting, before the kick of a drum and a big long swipe of a harp, boost the song into one of the best of the album, and the chorus itself. This has a real air of confidence surrounding it, something needed after the blip of ‘Lover to Lover’, and, significantly it features the first noticeable guitar riff, which, seven songs in is a quite a feat to go this far without such a recognisable instrument.
‘Seven Devils’ is the point at which I become slightly fatigued. It is a mix of the preceding 7 songs, and it suffers from sounding far too familiar to the former. Again, isn’t not a particularly bad song, just a bit too overstretched and ridden with one too many familiar sounds for me. The synths are out for ‘Heartlines’, which picks up the pieces of the previous song, and kickstarts the album once more. It’s important that this happens otherwise, the audience may feel the urge to skip a couple of songs, as I had myself had to do in the recent Coldplay album ‘Mylo Xyloto’. It’s not the best of songs, but it does the job, retaining the pace of earlier songs and setting the album back on track.
The primitive lyrics continue in ‘Heartlines’, with beauties like ‘Say my name, we are shining’, it’s a bit off-putting, but is undeniably catchy. A little jazzy breakdown comes in halfway through to provide a surprise, but what’s more surprising is how well Florence’s vocals suit it! It’s more of a pacey song though, which is a welcome thing and this sometimes stodgy album. ‘All This and Heaven Too’, carries through the intense drumming, which is ALWAYS there, and is quite a change, it’s chorus sounding noticeably different, with Florence’s voice not rising as usual, but whisking its way through some more non-sensical lyrics. She almost mumbles, such is the quietness of her voice. Last song, ‘Leave My Body’, has a raw feel to it, and takes almost a minute before the inevitable drumming kicks in. It’s a bit of an average song, not reaching the heights of the first half of the album, but then the second half only has a few brilliant songs. It’s backing vocals and acoustic guitar offer different avenues that haven’t been massively explored during the album’s entirety, and are welcome relief in a sense, with the backing vocals being as prominent as Florence’s. Not a bad ending, but it could’ve been a lot better!
An album, that has its awesome moments, and its average moments, but never really dips below average. It’s very good, and has some of Florence + the Machine’s best songs on it. The differences from ‘Lungs’, is that it’s a lot ‘grander’ in scale and the songs are long too, the shortest being 3:48, a monster for the pop genre! Florence’s vocals continue to entertain hugely, as she becomes a bigger star by the year. They successfully overcome the make-or-break second album triumphantly and we can look forward to a lot more from this exciting band. 4/5.