Florence + the Machine, Ceremonials

Barry Walters

By Barry Walters

on 11.01.11 in Reviews


Florence + The Machine

Although she co-writes most of her material, Florence Welch sings like an actor. Her dramatic inflections matter more than her image-packed and overtly-poetic lyrics. Those qualities, which evoke yesteryear’s art-pop idols like Kate Bush and Annie Lennox, are — paradoxically — what makes her accessible to adults and Glee kids alike. Like those forbearers, Welch occupies that magic zone between oddity and accessibility; she’s the witchy-yet-sexy ginger.

In the magic zone between oddity and accessibility

Unlike its predecessor, which was overseen by several producers and featured a multitude of co-writers, Ceremonials is produced solely by Paul Epworth, Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” collaborator who co-wrote three and produced four of Lungs‘ tracks, and shares writing credits on most of the material here. As a result, Welch’s sophomore album is far more unified: Epworth pumps nearly every track up to stadium size with cavernous bass, reverberating drums, pounding piano and plenty of studio manipulation. For what’s essentially a piano-based pop record, Ceremonials is hella loud. Guitars may be implied more than felt, but its claustrophobic atmospherics rarely allow any air or any rest.

Although religion is mostly referenced indirectly, Ceremonials — as its title suggests — has the vibe of an all-day revival meeting, even as the echoing gothic production nods toward nocturnal heathens like Siouxsie and the Banshees. And that’s not the only genre referenced here: Get past the harp and other filigrees packed into “What the Water Gave Me” and you’ll find power chords that scream classic rock. Had this album’s first single been recorded for, say, Tommy or Quadrophenia, you’d be flicking your Bic to it every time the Who decides to “reunite.” “Lover to Lover” suggests the barrelhouse R&B keyboards and gospel growls of early Elton John, while “Spectrum” quotes Destiny’s Child over a galloping rhythm from Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.” These are the album’s most substantial songs; relying on mood and not always melody; the others are more of a consolidation and a continuation of Lungs than a departure. Rock’s latest leading lady has stuck to her proven script.