Ceremonials – Florence and The Machine (review)

This is an album of astonishing vocal and melodic beauty.

Florence Welch, who dazzled us with her ability to wrap her voice about the most exquisite of emotional textures on Lungs, returns with an album that ranges from the intensely intimate and heartfelt to the epic and anthemic. At times, her voice powers through the songs with the intensity of a fiery Annie Lennox. At other times, it captures a winsomeness reminiscent of Kate Bush. But at every turn, her songs, populated by some of the smartest lyrics I have heard in some time, is entirely her own, suffused with passion, urgency and longing.

She has been accused by some detractors of sounding ‘too big’, which is an odd way of sounding her songs are too multi-layered and she sounds like a thousand urgent women all screaming in unison. But I find this perplexing since what Florence Welch gives us is an album that is all about passion, of wrestling with good and evil (‘Seven Devils’), and of struggling with the enormity of the sacrifices made for love (‘What the Water Gave Me’), and that sort of material demands a great big all-enveloping sound. Preferably augmented by any and all the bells and whistles (and harps) you want to throw in. Does it sound tribal and church-ey in equal measure? Yes, but this works for the songs which don’t skirt along the surface of human experience, but dive in with abandon asking big questions, articulating confusion, joy and sadness and all delivered courtesy of Florence’s goose-bump inducing powerhouse vocals.

This is a bombastic, full-on album but that is not meant as a pejorative. It shouts from the rooftops that life has a lot of questions that need answering, and great struggles that we will win or lose, and Florence + The Machine try to address them, even if answers aren’t always in ample supply. It is one of those rare albums where the substance of the lyrical intent matches the melodic passion, and it will stay with you for a good deal longer than those artists who stay small and unseen, tinkering on the edges.

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