When Florence + the Machine first joined the UK music scene in March of 2009 with their extended play A lot of Love. A lot of Blood, the world got its first taste of her powerful, mesmerizing vocals. Four months later, the group released their first full length album, Lungs, through Island Records. Reaching the top of UK charts that January and going platinum five times over, Lungs proved beyond doubt that the band’s unique and refreshing sound had made quite the impression.
Considering the smashing success of their first album, many were unsure whether Welch and the varying crew of musicians who support her would be able to maintain their prominence. All the same, skeptics were silenced by Florence’ second release, Ceremonials, which reached the top of the charts in the UK, Australia, Ireland, and England.
Ceremonials, recorded at Abbey Road Studios with Paul Epworth, gracefully transitions between lament and glorious resplendence. Saturated with large beats, majestic tones, and gospel touches, the album amplifies the theatrics and dramatic, bold arrangements of their debut, Lungs. It is a vastly inflated version of its predecessor – blustering rhythms made ominous by the ever-present howling of a distant storm.
“Shake it Out,” “What the Water Gave Me,” and “Leave My Body” feature Welch’s glorious, gospel choruses, adroitly balancing the importance of a mesmerizing hook with evocative lyrical poetry. “Lover, Lover” combines Welch’s soulful voice with something that hints at classic Motown, making a strong resemblance to Adele’s style.
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Ceremonials meets just criticism in its often blaring, overpowering …largeness. Pitchfork called the massive melodrama a manifestation of Welch’s overzealous ambition, and said that the album had lost the pleasing though unsettling variation of style that Lungs had. The Guardian was hesitant to call the record anything but interesting, as its most apparent aspect was the size of the predominant sounds, that Ceremonials is all bluster and no substance.
Aims of the industry aside, Ceremonials provides an array of calming, haunting, exciting, and uplifting tracks that, while requiring the occasional respite to regain one’s breath, are inspiring and heartening in their openness (granted, what some might call gratuitousness). Welch’s indefatigable vocals carry the album and earn it its criticism, but, either way, they are worth the listen.