Florence + the Machine, Ceremonials, 2011, Island Records
Only If for a Night
Shake It Out
What the Water Gave Me
Never Let Me Go
Lover to Lover
No Light, No Light
All This and Heaven Too
Leave My Body
Having formed in 2007 this was singer Florence Welch, guitarist Rob Ackroyd, keyboard player Isabella Summers and harpist Tom Monger’s second album as indie outfit Florence + the Machine. They collaborated with a number of other instrumentalists across the tracks. While Welch's voice is singular, the group are also well known for the dramatic production that backs up her vocals and Ceremonials entered the chart at number one on release eventually going double platinum.
The gentle piano that starts "Only If for a Night" sounds like church bells, and when Florence’s voice kicks in it’s sublime. This album is already anthemic 30 seconds in. "Shake It Out", the album’s second and probably most well known single was written during a hangover, the melody is powerful and singing along to it definitely feels like you are physically shaking something negative from yourself. "What the Water Gave Me" somehow actually sounds like it’s coming from under the sea, I didn’t want to use the word “ethereal” in this article but it’s all I can think of to describe the sound, it’s beautiful and calming. Gospel influenced "Never Let Me Go"f maintains the soaring energy. "Breaking Down" has such an upbeat melody it almost sounds music hall-esque, the lyrics, about depression are a sharp juxtaposition to this that work well, especially as they are the quietest on the album. "Lover to Lover" is a straight soul track that continues the upbeat melody, it’s the most fun song on the album. "No Light, No Light" is another song with a melody that whisks you along with it, the vocals are rich and full and with the heavy drums, the sound seems to come from everywhere. "Seven Devils" has a quietly relentless beat, it’s a song you feel you can’t stop listening to. Synth-focused "Heartlines" is the first song with a positive message. The drums are prominent and it’s an upbeat, happy track, if a bit forgettable when compared with the other epic numbers. Harp-heavy "Spectrum" continues the upbeat interlude, it’s the most obviously dance tinged track, the ideal candidate for a remix, which it famously got from Calvin Harris, becoming the band’s first number 1 single. "All This and Heaven Too" manages to be the most deliberately epic track but it’s somehow unfulfilling. "Leave My Body" which has a full choir of backing vocalists is a suitably grand ending which doesn’t quite reach the epic heights of the first half of the album.
Despite all the dark themes, Ceremonials is very uplifting and you somehow feel refreshed after listening to it. Florence Welch’s voice is always compared to Kate Bush and Stevie Nicks but I kept thinking of Annie Lennox. While I am not a lover of standard ballads, I found I really enjoyed the album and I definitely think it is the best the band have produced to date and indeed the most consistent in terms of quality. They create such an interesting soundscape that draws you in and makes you want to keep listening, a great, affirming sort of album. It’s also far more coherent than predecessor Lungs with only a few genuinely forgettable tracks so it shows clearly the band finding the sound that fits them best.
While continuing to make music and tour, the band have an enduring legacy with Beyoncé citing them as an influence on her work. Ceremonials in particular will continue to be relevant as the art deco influenced cover art is on permanent display at the National Portrait Gallery in London as an example of culturally important fashion illustration.