May 28, 2012

Album Review: Florence And The Machine "Ceremonials"

Florence Welsh and her Machine unleashed their sophomore album, "Ceremonials" October 10, 2011 and has launched the band from London, Florence and The Machine into further international stardom. My introduction to the band came two years ago when the band performed "Dog Days Are Over" for MTV's 2010 VMAs, garnering a "who are you?" response from myself and probably many others. But given that is an awesome song off an awesome album (their debut, "Lungs"), I and legions of others quickly became fans. The artsy pop singer is known for her beautiful range and fiery passionate singing but partners with a whole crew of immensely talented individuals. Naturally, this album has plenty of variations with deluxe bonus tracks and such, but here are the bare basics that everyone is going to enjoy, reviewed for your informed pleasure.

1) "Only If For A Night" - Amidst the mist of mystery and otherworldly, Florence sings a dreamy tale of turmoil and perilous battles leading her to glorious victory. It's big, it's dramatic, but the breakdown at the three minute mark really adds an extra umph to the song. A great way to start out the album, but missing just little bit of something extra special to reach a perfect score. 4.5 / 5

2) "Shake It Out" - A soft lullaby from a damsel in distress gradually unleashes a motivational war cry to leave the past in the past and look to the future. One of the singles of the album, and rightfully so, as it rocks on all levels. Inspirational lyrics (I've always loved the phrase "it's always darkest before the dawn"), relatable message, and all around amazingly produced. An easy 5 / 5.

3) "What The Water Gave Me" - A graveyard smash that initially could be immaturely interpreted as an ode to Montezuma's revenge, but is actually about suicide and inspired by Virginia Woolf's writing and Frida Kahlo's paintings. While towing a similar sad line as Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald", this track definitely has Florence's opera dramatics all over it to make you really feel for her. 5 / 5.

4) "Never Let Me Go" - In a perfect track placement, this song narrates seemingly just after Florence lays down with a pocket full of stones in "What The Water Gave Me" and has washed up after "the arms of the ocean delivered me." A beautiful, yet haunting track that seems perfectly tailored for a television series looking at a character's redemption or demise. Florence also shows off her amazing pitch, hitting all kinds of beautiful notes on this track. 5 / 5.

5) "Breaking Down" - In an overly produced melody, Florence sounds like she's still underwater following the last few songs, which doesn't light a fire under any listeners. Sure to be a great song to hear live, but far from the strongest track of the album. A skippable 2.5 / 5.

6) "Lover To Lover" - Somehow, even worse than Breaking Down. Another easily skippable track that doesn't really serve any purpose other than to be middle-of-the-album filler. Florence tries to save the track putting her amazing range on display but there's not enough steak to be saved by that sizzle. 2 / 5.

7) "No Light, No Light" - A beautifully tragic love song emphasizing goodbyes and turmoil. One of the best selling singles of the album and easily my favorite. 5 / 5.

8) "Seven Devils" - If ever a song could have benefited from a properly produced music video, this would be it. Demonic, hellfire and brimstone in every keyboard and harp stroke. The redhead can easily be pictured surrounded by inferno and billowing clouds of smoke. On it's own however, not a song I would probably listen to repetitively unless I was stuck in a certain mood. 4 / 5.

9) "Heartlines" - Tribal beats and chants make for good effect in "Heartlines", but it's really the powerful chorus that makes this song a treasure. The opening to the track leaves an impression on you but the verses leave something to be desired. When you hear the powerful chorus, everything gets tied together and lands this song a rating of 5 / 5.

10) "Spectrum" - Initially, the awesomeness of this gem escaped me. On the first few listens, Florence's beautiful range and voice was starting to lose it's novelty, but this is a song where it's really maxed out in the best of ways. The verses even get delightfully dark at times. Maybe it's not the best placement for the track, but on it's own, "Spectrum" is mind blowing. 5 / 5.

11) "All This and Heaven Too" - Really not a lot special about this song. Maybe it would have served better sandwiched between two top notch tracks to give the ears a break and to make you appreciate the following track more, but no way should it be following "Spectrum". A skippable 2 / 5.

12) "Leave My Body" - A goodbye to this world, placed well on this album with other cries of suicide and depression. Would have probably left a better impression having had a better lead-in than "All This and Heaven Too", but a strong track, and a strong closer on it's own merit. 4 / 5.

My Highlights:
"Shake It Out", "What The Water Gave Me", "Never Let Me Go", "No Light, No Light", "Heartlines" and "Spectrum".

Overall Rating:
Averaging all of these tracks together, the total score for "Ceremonials" rounds to 4.1 / 5, but given the crazy high ratio of hits to misses, hits to total number of tracks, and how nothing was so offensively placed on the album that it ruined things for me, this is an easy decision. I'm going to use my super-secret big picture brownie point powers to bump the total score of this album to a nice round...

4.25 / 5

image from Amazon

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