Monday, 24 October 2011

Florence And The Machine - Ceremonials

Writing this review without getting emotional is going to be difficult for me; when I first heard Ceremonials, half of me wanted to break into some sort of interpretive dance, and the other half wanted to curl up under a duvet in the foetal position and cry my little heart out because Florence and her Machine have created such an emotional roller-coaster, such a masterpiece. (Indeed, I did in fact do one of these, but I shall leave that to you to decide which one won.)

We got the first, proper, studio-recorded taste of Florence And The Machine's new material a few months ago, with What The Water Gave Me, a festival-ready track with a sing along chorus about drowning (of course!). Then we had the first official single, Shake It Out, a jubilant 'hangover cure' with a seriously beautiful Gatsby indebted video. And now finally, finally, finally, after two years and almost continuous teasers, we have the full 12 properly-recorded, studio-fresh, shiny new tracks.

Ceremonials is a bigger, more cohesive record than debut Lungs, however this doesn't mean that our Florence has lost any of her beguiling strangeness or charm. From the first Christmassy harp echoes, along with Flo's little echoing giggle at the start of opener Only If For A Night, to the manipulated sound of the tour bus on second single No Light, No Light to the bird calls at the start of Heartlines, this album contains so many of the little quirky details, even on first listen, that drew many to Florence and co in the first place. And then there’s the lyrics; Florence, never one for understatement and not afraid of metaphor and melodramatics, is famous- nay, infamous for her dark song writing. It’s what makes her formula work. Without her fixation on dark themes, her songs may start to grate, or be too saccharine pop.

Ceremonials certainly doesn’t disappoint in this department. Along with literary references- homages to Frida Khalo and Virginia Woolf on What The Water Gave Me- the album if full to bursting with lyrics about drowning and death, Florence herself describing it as ‘apocolypto-pop…[the] soundtrack to the end of the world!’

Only If For A Night was written about an encounter with the ghost of Florence’s Grandmother in a dream: ‘It was oh so strange/ And it’s so surreal/ That a ghost should be so practical’. There’s also a theme of religion, most prevalent on the spooky-sounding Seven Devils, (which fits in so perfectly with the UK release date of Halloween); Holy water/ Cannot help me now’ along, of course with death; ‘See I was dead when I woke up this morning/ And I’ll be dead before the day is done’. The soulful Lover To Lover also concentrates on religion: ‘There’s no salvation for me now/ No space among the clouds’. Throughout the album it feels like a battle between wanting that ‘space among the clouds’ and coming to terms with the idea of knowing you can’t have it: ‘moving up to higher ground…/ But history keeps pulling me down’ (on David Byrne-esque Leave My Body). Waltz-like Breaking Down once again seems to describe Florence’s sleep paralysis, seen on Lungs on I’m Not Calling You A Liar: ‘All alone/ On the edge of sleep/ My old familiar friend/ Comes and lies down next to me’.

But of course, any review of Florence and the Machine cannot go without a mention of that voice. Boosted by ‘apocalyptic choir’ backing vocals and rolling, tribal drums, Florence’s voice inspires such incredible, enchanting emotion: the vocal on Spectrum, for example, is epiphany-causing material. A stand out track for me is Never Let Me Go; along with simply beautiful lyrics such as ‘looking up from underneath/ Fractured moonlight on the sea’, the chorus has heart-stoppingly stunning notes, especially the line ‘in the arms of the ocean’. Her voice shows such development and prowess, and just when you are recovering from one emotional high, she hits you with another, making Ceremonials such an experience. A simply wonderful album. 

By Holly Read-Challen


  1. Great review. Never Let Me Go did really stand out for me as well, and so did Breaking Down. The lyrics are ingenious, with just the right amount of darkness; and her voice is intoxicating. Great album indeed...

  2. Honestly, you could not have described this phenomenal album any better. I have nothing more to say except from the fact that I can't really wait for her next album!