Sound: Somehow each specific type of vocal of contemporary female singers resembles to the specific type of music they play. We have Lady Gaga with lots of shouting, outrageous style and hard-dance-pop sound; we have Beyonce with a total pop-r'n'b and wonderful high pitch notes; we have Kate Nash with her brilliant Brighton accent, a bit tired voice and (not the best path to choose though) light pop-punk mood; we have Marina And The Diamonds with her rich lower tones; we have Alicia Keys with jazzy r'n'b sound and soft vocal lines; we have... Oh, we have a lot of female performers from yesterday and even more from tomorrow. Florence Welch is somehow still in the middle.
After her powerful release in 2009, it was quite hard to imagine anything that interesting from her. Nevertheless, "Lungs" turned out to be just the first breath, but the main voice is definitely raised in "Ceremonials". The album was released on October 28th, 2011.
Tribal drums interlace with a church choir which seems like a thousand voices, where the sounds are recorded in an echoing cave. Harp, toy pianos, strings, eerie sound effects create an amazing atmosphere of 21 century church anthems. Gothic, Celtic, bluesy, folk, danceable rock it all sounds like a mess, yet quite the opposite - due in part to Welch's hurtling vocals, some of the most bewitching in both the rock and pop worlds right now. For "Ceremonials", Welch rode out the wave of success afforded to her by breakout hit "Dog Days Are Over", and instead of going the shiny pop route, delved into kind of darkness, aided by producer Paul Epworth (by the way, who is also UK chart princess Adele's producer). Worth saying here that Florence is usually compared nowadays with Adele as both have strong remarkable vocals although Adele is more successful with romantic-pop mood and personal touch in her songs while Welch is about to choose another path.
"Ceremonials" sounds good, there's no doubt. Although here Florence is trying very hard to top the gargantuan drums and cascading harps and chest-thumping choruses of "Lungs" hits like "Cosmic Love" and "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)" on nearly every song which feels a bit tiring closer to the last track. Also all these religious topics of light, heaven, hell, devil, revelation, truth etc. Seem to be a bit of overkill - too much Christianity as for me. // 8
Lyrics: The first track from the album, "Only If For A Night", contains already almost everything we're gonna hear later: harp, strings, booming piano chords with low bass and strong back-vocals (choir). It all leads us to the first single "Shake It Out" with tribal drums, some low winds and with the overall ethno mood. And again some religious lyrics here: "It's hard to dance with the devil on your back, so shake him off."
The second official single "What The Water Gave Me" goes right after and claims to be an epic saga about drowning in love, desire and passion. Unfortunately, a really astonishing beginning with strange background sounds and dark beat comes to a bit flat and ordinary chorus, however it grows into a huge choir and a loud mix of all instruments at the end.
When we go further, there will be a lovely r'n'b ballade "Never Let Me Go" with light piano and almost folklore back vocals, cheerful "Breaking Down" with some kind of Christmas carol mood and gospel salvation song "Lover To Lover", later tribal motives in "Heartlines", gay-pride anthem (according to Billboard's opinion) in "Spectrum" and a love story in "All This And Heaven Too". One of the most powerful songs on the album, "Seven Devils", has this above mentioned Christian symbolism again but sounds really dark, heavy, with screaming vocals, a bit terrifying high piano tones and a huge choir at the end.
Somewhere in the middle we also meet a third single from the LP, "No Light, No Light", which was released in November 2011. This track seems to be a bit more personal: "Would you leave me, if I told you what I'd become, / Cause it's so easy to sing it to a crowd/ But it's so hard, my love/ To say it to you out loud." Sounds like self-criticism. With its heavy tribal drumbeat, organ and choir the song becomes a soul-screaming pray. // 7
Overall Impression: In a word, I see Flo's intention to bring her songs to the stadiums cause they will be absolutely lost if she performs in small pubs or suddenly prepares an acoustic program for "Ceremonials". There is both good and bad in it. Although no doubt that the latest album by Florence + The Machine is still more mature, capable and deeply beautiful, one of the strongest and most interesting works this year in this music stream. // 8