Album Review :: Florence+The Machine – Ceremonials

A return to form or more of the same?

Florence+The Machine - Ceremonials © Island

2009 was year that Florence Welch will never forget. With a monumental and almost instantaneous rise from obscure indie pop vocalist to one of the biggest selling and popular artists of recent memory. With a string of awards and media praise including the prestigious BBC Introducing, respected cultural South Bank Show award, a BRIT award and MTV Music Video Award amongst her haulage for breakthrough album Lungs, Miss Welch and her band Florence + The Machine return with the hotly anticipated and always trialling follow up album Ceremonials.

There have been very few bands in recent memory that have stormed the mainstream music scene and had such a powerful influence across the complete spectrum of consumer appreciation and economic bankability. From tweener school kids wishing to seem more mature in their music taste to the young professional still gripping tightly to their aging days of youth. They are joined by the middle class suburbanites and beyond in their appreciation for Florence + The Machine’s alternative, soul infused indie rock sound that feels it should be performed in airy, 17th century cathedrals than the glitzy, confetti strewn stages of the O2 arena.

So it is with a relative pleasure that the new album Ceremonials arrives on the shelves for the baying public’s ravenous consumption. Once more cantered as the focal point of the group and its commercial appeal, front woman Florence Welch lends her voice, that which is rather liberally described as “somewhere between rock and soul”, to an album that almost writes its own cheques, merely at its mention.

Launched with the preceding singles “What the Water Gave Me,” a techno funk, artistically indulgent anthem that, if popularity continues to escalate as it does, will no doubt be the festival anthem of next summer’s inevitable tour by the band. The second, of three, singles; “Shake it Out” returns Florence + The Machine to their grandeur and crowd mimicking anthem status they last experienced with their cover of Candi Staton and The Source’s “You’ve Got the Love.” More nightclub throbbing, drunken, happy memories sure to be made in the same vein as its immensely popular predecessor.

With additional tracks such as “Seven Devils,” “Spectrum,” and “Leave me Body,” Ceremonials stands as a substantial piece of work that is a fair reflection of the band and their music. Standing at twelve tracks long, twenty for the inevitable Deluxe edition which includes various demos and acoustic versions, fans and casual listeners alike will be more than pleased and satisfied.

However, this fact alone could well prove to be the final nail in the coffin of Florence + The Machine, the overused, clichéd term “More of the same” an all too fitting an epitaph. Where Lungs was embraced because of its relative originality and refreshingly bold, orchestral and musically intelligent driving force that is all too redundant in the popular music field. The album and songs spoke across the multigenerational, quasi spectrum of multiple listeners because of its word-a-mouth popularity and enjoyable music not heard for twenty years for some and not heard at all for others.

Ceremonials however feels more like a re-hash of the previous album, not so much a new piece of work but more Lungs.2. undeniably talented and blessed with one of the more unique, fabulous and hauntingly infatuating voices in pop, Florence Welch and the rest of the band, as they have become dubbed, quite literally by their own admission and band name, have produced an album here that stays safe.

And what is wrong with that? Well nothing, nothing at all. AC/DC have produced the same album, once again by the own admission, fifteen times since 1973 and are one of the wealthiest, most respected pioneers within their genre, if not music. So have countless other groups and artists, who is really to say there is any difference between “Dead or Alive” and “Young Gun” by Bon Jovi? It is a formula that works and all credit to be due for those who exploit it.

But with Florence + The Machine, there seems to be a rather acrid taste left in the listener’s mouth about the whole experience. Here was a group of talented, young musicians who were seemingly stumbled upon as a genuine hope for the future of genuinely good music who had importantly captured the imaginations of the wider public. Instead Ceremonials takes the safe, money in the bank option of sticking to the formulae that has allowed them the luxury of making the album so closely that the end product is nothing shy of the same material in a different sleeve.

Where those who are obvious inspirations to the band, see Annie Lennox and Kate Bush for starters, continually pushed the boundaries of their own images and styles whilst still retaining their fan base, Florence + The Machine have regressed. A pity but no great surprise and nothing that they should be ashamed of in the current climate of musical austerity.

Jonathan Whitelaw

The album is on unlimited release now for CD, Vinyl and downloadable content. The band’s official website, contains all relevant information on upcoming tours and album availability.

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