Florence + the Machine impress with ‘Ceremonials’

3 stars

For the better part of five years the music charts have been dominated by “glam rap,” a genre that is simply a pulpit for artists to display their excesses and fame.
So when Florence and the Machine’s debut Lungs dropped in 2009, it was more than just a breath of fresh air.  It was an album that eased into a modern day renaissance of talented female artists and made playing the harp cool for the first time since the 1700s.
Ceremonials, released Nov. 1,  picked up right where Lungs left off.
The record starts off with the joyful stomp of “Only If for a Night” where Florence Welch wails the words with her Joni Mitchell falsetto.  From there on it’s all raw emotion, powerful baroque-pop blended with tales of loss, learning to cope and eventually releasing all of the bad energy.
One of those songs that deal with release is “Shake it Out,” a track that touches upon many of the themes of Springsteen but when it’s all stripped away it’s the Ceremonials equivalent of “Dog Days Are Over.”  The narrator talks about all of the burden that he or she had been dealing with and in one night, all of that grief will be put to rest, “I’m always dragging that horse around/Tonight I’m going to bury that horse in the ground.”
“Breaking Down,” quite possibly the simplest song on the album when it comes to instrumentation and arrangements, is definitely the best.  It’s contradictive with the bright strings, keyboard riff and somber undertones but it single-handedly balances a record that was hinging on the brink of being over indulgent when it comes to majestic ballads and tribal dance-floor beats.  It’s very impressive to see that Welch and company can pull a tune like this out of their repertoire.
“Lover to Lover” sounds almost identical to Marvin Gaye’s classic “Heard it Through the Grapevine” but that just demonstrates the R&B and soul influence that resonates throughout the album and the band as a whole.
Ditto with “Heartlines” but in the case of African rhythms.  Ceremonials justifies the fact that the rhythm section is almost as important to Florence and the Machine as the string section is and their presence will be integral to their progression as a band.
Ceremonials is the almost-perfect follow up to Lungs so F&TM will most certainly not fall victim to the sophomore slump.  Welch is on the verge of becoming a master lyricist and song-writer and when that day comes, her band will become a force to be reckoned with.
They find that blend of Brit-pop, Portishead and Adele and make it their own.  Altogether Ceremonials is a solid effort, but give them a couple more shots to create something really great and spectacular in future projects.