Florence Welch, the singer behind Florence and the Machine, brings listeners into her dark, twisted, emotional dream with the group’s latest album, Ceremonials. “Only If For A Night,” the album’s opening track, begins with the lyrics, “And I had a dream.” From there the album’s 12 tracks tell the story of cyclical love and heartbreak, joy and desperation. While the struggles described are more like a nightmare, the music itself is the group at its new best.
Florence and The Machine’s sophomore album seems to build on what they started in their first album. Welch’s intense vocals are joined by a variety of unconventional musical elements that complement each other surprisingly well. Her echoing vocals belt the often-painful lyrics, accompanied by danceable beats, tribal drums, strings, and harp.
The group showcases these elements in the opening track, where the strings and percussion create a whimsical background to the offbeat lyrics typical of their music, including lines like, “it was all so strange, and so surreal, that a ghost should be so practical.” The strings launch into a surprisingly classical bridge before Florence shows off the powerful vocals for which she’s so well known.
The swelling strings and upbeat tambourine and drum percussion in “Shake It Out” create a joyous feeling and make you want to dance.
“What The Water Gave Me” and “Never Let Me Go” transition the album into its darker tone, with lyrics about a dying lover and pleading to remain with someone. Here the group utilizes the rawness of Welch’s powerful vocals and the echoing sound quality new to this album to effectively create a haunting, ominous mood. The chorus of “Never Let Me Go” is particularly poignant, as Welch softens her vocals from the otherwise strong vocals of the track to repeat “never let me go” in desperation.
Unfortunately, the excellence of the album thus far is interrupted by “Breaking Down.” With a surprisingly cutesy sound, the song seems completely out of step with the rest of the tracks. While the group still uses interesting strings parts, the chorus vocals are weak with an “ahhhh” that sounds more like an exhale than purposeful lyrics.
The next track also shows something new, but much more successfully. “Lover to Lover” shows off Florence’s ability to translate her vibrant voice to a high-energy jazzy number. The vocal runs showcased harken back to the vocals on Lungs that got Welch recognition. The electrical piano is also jazzy and fun, evoking the image of a piano player slamming away at the keys in an old jazz bar.
The rest of the album progresses well, with the exception of one song. While the strings are impressive, the disturbing lyrics of “Seven Devils” about burning cities down, smoking someone out, and sending devils to surround someone are too odd and uncreative. The piano also sounds like a bad Halloween song and when paired with the washed out vocals and boring melody, the song fails in comparison to the rest of Ceremonials.
The other main flaw of the album is the tendency to end a song with a minute of repeating the same lyrics over and over again. Half of Ceremonials’s songs end this way, causing me to wonder whether the group’s usual creativity for impacting crescendo endings was lost on this album. The only song in which the repetition works is “No Light, No Light.” The chorus features what seems to be the dialogue of a painful fight with a lover, so the repetition of the lyrics at the end of the track gives the feeling that this a fight they’ve had many times before, leaving both to feel stuck and unsure.
The last tracks showcase the elements of the group from their older music in addition to the developments made in Ceremonials. Tribal drums, chanting, tambourine paired with the delicacy of strings and harp melodies accompany Welch’s powerful vocals well.
For those familiar with Florence and The Machine’s music, Ceremonials will seem like the next logical step in their artistic growth. The haunting lyrics and mismatched musical elements will be something those unfamiliar with the group will have to adjust to, but the original sound the group creates through these elements is worth any adjustment.