Florence and the Machine – Ceremonials

In Culture on November 4, 2011 at 11:49 PM

So, your 4x platinum selling debut album has been a mainstay in the charts since the summer of July, you have conquered the states, wowed at intimate gigs, rocked festival crowds and, most incredibly, become loved by everyone from reviewers, to Rihanna fans, to hipsters, to housewives. What do you do for that ‘difficult’ second album? Why, ramp up it up to 11, of course.

I speak of Florence + The Machine and their second album, Ceremonials. They have again contracted the magic touch indie uber-producer Paul Epworth, responsible Blinding and Cosmic Love – two highlights from debut Lungs, this time for the whole album. They take the kitchen-sink approach, throwing dark piano, triumphant brass, twinkly strings, tribal drums and everything between at the songs. Yet it all sticks, resulting in an grandiose, cinematic art-rock masterpiece.

Welsh’s voice is typically strong, channelling both classic blues and the gothic melodrama of Tori Amos and Kate Bush, but allying this to plain great melodies and huge sing-along choruses often forgotten kooky contemporaries such Joanna Newsom and Regina Spektor.

This balance is part of Florence and the Machine’s greatness; the ordinary with the extraordinary. mundane with the miraculous. On and off-stage. Florence Welch seems to inhabit both the arty inner-city London Borough of Camberwell and the fictional worlds of Byron, Keats and Shelley. For example, single Shake It Out talks of deep regret and flesh-hungry demons, yet just dancing – shaking – them out.

Detractors may claim this sophomore effort progresses little from the similar if less operatic Lungs, that Welch’s histrionics are now – or have always been – affected, that the album lacks subtlety, or even that that she’s emotionally incontinent.

Admittedly, it’s not a quantum leap from Lungs, but to overly depart from such a distinctive sound is unrealistic, and no doubt would have had some complaining anyway. And there may be some calculation in the sound, but there’s far too much heart and soul poured in this record for any but the hardest of hearts to construe it as any kind of cold calculation.

Ms Welch claimed she wanted to make ‘chamber soul’ – a mixture of soul music and chamber pop – to soundtrack Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet: ‘The violence mixed with the classical Shakespearean drama mixed with the pop and the pulp, extreme neon stuff’.

She, Epworth and the Machine succeed, and this applauded. Lest we have the anodyne likes of the JLS and Olly Murs infect our eardrums…..

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