Florence Welch has always been bigger than her band. On stage the Machine works efficiently in the shadows while Flo, usually resplendent in something flowing and ephemeral, copper wild locks a blazing, sounds, looks and acts every inch the superstar. It works because you can’t take your eyes off Florence and her band create the perfect aural backdrop to her posturing and vocal prowess.
You’ll be pleased to hear then that, on this, their second album, Florence And The Machine have decided to go all out. Ceremonials is grander, more upbeat and ambitious than Lungs. It sounds like the band have caught up with their leader and gone big and Florence, siren like, is entrancing throughout, leading her charges into a conflict with her demons that can only have one winner.
Only If For A Night opens Ceremonials with a pealing church bell piano riff which evolves into a slice of atmospheric chamber pop. Florence, in her best Kate Bush meets Patti Smith vocal, tells us “the only solution was to stay and fight” setting the tone for an album which features various battles (with the devil, with herself and more) but with a similar outcome – Florence And The Machine coming out the victors and the spirit of the fight coursing through.
In the same vein, single Shake It Out is borderline evangelical, full of religious imagery, foot stomping drums and a defiant refrain: “It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back, so shake him off.” It sounds huge, a rallying cry for Ceremonials’ spirit.
A spirit that is evident again in Seven Devils, with its spooky piano riff and haunting atmosphere. It’s Florence against the demons, a moment of introspection, brimming with a nervous ephemeral energy. Likewise, What the Water Gave Me appears to be Florence contemplating her own drowning, weighed down with pockets of stones in the peace of the river, the weight of the world above her. For a macabre image, it’s actually very upbeat in a cast away your troubles kind of way.
Spectrum tells a similar story. “Say my name,” wails Florence and, “We’ll never be afraid again”. It’s similar to Lungs in its energy, but again with that uplift. Leave My Body ends the album with defiance: “I’m gonna leave my body/moving up to higher ground.” And you get the sense that Florence has either accepted her fate or won her trial.
Ceremonials sounds like Florence And The Machine have made their sound grander and used the age old battle against inner demons as the backdrop. It’s bigger, brighter and braver than what went before, and should elevate Florence even higher, with her Machine shoulder to shoulder.