Ceremonially reviewing Florence + the Machine’s Cermonials

You may remember my first Florence + the Machine review where I talked about their_her first album Lungs (here) and was raving, cause I enjoyed it from beginning to end. This last October she released her sophomore album Ceremonials and naturally expectations run high, so let’s have a look at how it fares as an album.

via boerse.bz

I could try to fool you and act like I do not love it from beginning to end, but instead of just giggling and saying awesome a lot I will try to be articulate and state: this album has both met and far exceeded my expectations. I started with fear, cause if you like an album that much (me and Lungs) you may expect too much from the second album and not give it its individual chance. Especially if the album heavily involves Paul Epworth who produced her Lungs single Cosmic Love which is, ermh excuse me, one of the greatest songs of all time. I am relieved to report – and also a little amazed by the fact – that I love Ceremonials just as much as a I love Lungs, which I consider to be quite the accomplishment. It totally works as an album and I can’t wait to finally possess the vinyl and have this ultimate one-album-feeling about it, even though it means I miss out on the special edition bonus tracks.

But since we’re all so fond of statistics and charts and all let us break the album down song by song, starting with the one I like the least up to the one I love the most. As a twist each title gets as much sentences as there are ranks in reverse order. Makes total sense, right?
But let me first make the honorable mention shout-outs to the three acoustic versions plus one demo on the second disc of the special edition, cause not only are they all about my favorite tracks, they are also just really really nice and it’s good to have them.

All this and heaven too
In one sentence I can only say that this doesn’t really suck, but the lyrics kinda do cause they are very reminiscent of (does anyone even remember) Natasha Bedingfield.

Never let me go
Another song that isn’t horrible, but the chorus doesn’t really do it for me and feels like a let down. Too cheesy and safe and un-Florence on an album so full of greatness.

Leave my body
While You’ve got the love was an amazing album closer on Lungs, this one is kind of a disappointment. My feeling is that the song intends to be darker than it actually is and thus doesn’t really work nor bear the significance it tries to bear. Which is sad, cause it does have some potential.

No light, no light
Florence Welch said in an interview that this song represents the album in its entirety, but I am really glad that it does not really, cause it is not my favorite. She clearly likes it, since it’s set to become the second single. However, it feels a tad too safe for me, like something that someone else could easily have come up with really – and I don’t like the chorus. Its saving grace is clearly Florence’s voice and style, but that alone does not make it a stand-out track.

For those who can see it (it does not work in Germany e.g.): I am most definitely going to talk about the racist implications of the imagery used in this video, probably tomorrow.

Bedroom hymns
I’m not here looking for absolution? This is kind of a reverse case to other songs on the album in that the chorus totally convinces me, but everything else, except for the last part, doesn’t. Though, and I will confess it here first (can you see them headlines coming?), my feeling is that this is actually a grower and half a year from now this could easily be one of my favorites. It is not now, so let’s wait and see. And the ending with its jammy feeling is really great…

Strangeness and charm
Of the songs I like less, this is one of the more awesome ones. I love its upbeat nature. I love the verses. I love the bridge. But as with some others it is the chorus that doesn’t really work for me and thus diminishes the impact a little. In this case really a shame, cause with a killer chorus this would be a killer track.

Seven Devils
This is a peculiar case for me. I really love the beginning and the chorus and overall I think this is actually a pretty wicked song. However, somehow it ends up in the middle of the field and I often find myself skipping it. Probably because the bridges and verses don’t entirely convince me. Having said all that, I tend to think that over time this one will actually climb on my list. Of course I need to listen to it more often to get there. If this is one of your favorites I would actually really like to know why, so please comment!

Only if for a night
We are actually breaking an invisible wall here, cause from here on I will talk about all the songs that I always listen to, while I often tend to skip the other ones mentioned before. Only if for a night is in the middle field, because there are some aspects to it that don’t convince me a hundred percent, like e.g. the beginning. However, since I’ve heard Florence recount the story of how she dreamt of her just shortly before passed grandmother on tour and how this became the inspiration for this song, well it makes it oddly personal to me, all of a sudden. And I agree, how weirdly practical is the advice of a ghost to concentrate? I love how this track works as the perfect introduction to Ceremonials. It gives us massive drums and tops it off with the mandatory choir, all contrasted to Florence Welch’s amazing vocal range. And it gives us the first hint of what awaits us in terms of bass on this album. Which is an awful lot and probably the major departure from the previous album – but for all the right reasons.

Breaking down
Breaking Down feels a lot like Pretty in Pink. There, I said it. It is most definitely not pink, but it does definitely reference the 80s. In a good way, of course. It sounds like one of those feelgood teenager movies where everyone has ridiculous hair and wears oversized color-blocking sweaters that are pretty rad, but also hurt the eye. So while the whole thing evokes positive 80s nostalgia the lyrics are actually a lot darker than I would have expected. But also in a good way. It is an odd combination here, but the whole anxiety theme works remarkably well with the kids’-song-80s-feel of it. Thus, my initial reaction upon first listen of “I don’t like that one” quickly turned into adoration (with a neon-bandana and turquoise leggings y’all).

Lover to lover
Strangely, this one was a grower for me, while to many other people it was an instant hit. Now I totally get the appeal. In an interview on youtube (to youtube actually) Florence said she tried to write this song from the perspective of a man on tour. Gurrl, take your inspiration where you can get it, cause it doesn’t really feel like that to me, but it does sound fucking amazing. I love the Sixtie-ness of it (though you could argue for the 70s as well I guess). It has a damn catchy chorus, an awesome ending, nice choirs, good bridges. There are all the right pieces and I love it don’t get me wrong, nevertheless I feel like there should have been an extra punch. I don’t even know where or how, but something to make it stand out even more. Having said all that I will so totally dance to it when I’ll encounter it on a dancefloor. Cause song was made for jumping to it.

Remain nameless
Dude_ttes, this one! Effin’ this one. This bassline drives my neighbors insane but sums up oh so very nicely what Ceremonials is all about (and what differentiates it from its predecessor). Oddly, I somehow think or rather feel like this one is a cover of another song, but my short and unrepresentative google search does not confirm my suspicion. Does anyone know? I am even more impressed if this is all Florence’s doing. Cause not only is the music A+, the lyrics of this one are just brilliant. You can call me anything you want. I am a little sad that it is not going to be a single or won’t even get a lot of exposure since it is one of the bonus tracks of the special ed. IMHO it totally deserves to be on the actual album, though it admittedly doesn’t really fit that well with the rest. But then again, did Kiss with a fist?

What the water gave me
This was my first impression of the new album, and what an impression it was. It totally reassured me that things will be fine, that there is another masterpiece on the way. And how true that turned out to be! By now I find myself liking other songs on the album even more than this one, but every now and than it just blows me off my feet. It is such a powerful song, with this immense build-up and this amazing choir. I am deeply in love with how deceivingly quiet it seems for the most of it just to build up to this point of breaking loose and letting it all out. And I really like how Florence + the Machine stick to their themes. There is a lot of water being mentioned on Ceremonials, and has actually also been referenced quite a lot on Lungs (where it was all about breathing, obviously). And this song not only mentions water prominently it also feels like a massive wave of sound that crushes you, takes you down and drowns you in its awesomeness. Its heartbreaking choirs will fill your lungs and choke you to tears. And if you think I’m exaggerating: I am most certainly not.

Shake it out
This is another case of “didn’t like it that much at first but love it now.” Which seems weird to me now that I know how wonderful that song is and what I love about it. And what I love about it is that the chorus is gorgeous, but the verses are even more so. It creates nice imagery with language and the music takes you there to make you shake it out with your very limbs. It is an obvious single choice, but that didn’t occur to me at first. Now I keep dancing away at the very hint of this song. Cause I like to keep my issues strong.
Once again the interesting aspect of this song is its lyrical darkness contrasted with very upbeat and dare I say positive rhythms and melodies. I am also very fond of my pretend command of language to more or less (read: less to zero) accurately describe the musical phenomena I observe. Cause really, I have not clue. Don’t get me wrong, most of the time I can identify the chorus, but that is about where my deeper knowledge ends. I’m just putting words on it and pray to ancient greek goddesses that you’ll bear with me and my nonsense. Thanks.

Spectrum
This is kinda my Ceremonials’ Cosmic love. Which might not make much sense to you, but it totally does in my head. I promise. What I mean is that this song feels much like Cosmic Love on Lungs. It is an absolute and definitive favorite and evokes feelings that make my universe feel bigger and brighter and somehow more worth living in. And if a song does that to you, grab it and hold on to it, sez I. It is in many ways also very similar structurally to Cosmic love, with the verses, the build-up, and the quieter bridge towards the end – and of course a very powerful chorus. Plus choirs, drums and harps, which was the excellent model recipe for Lungs. Fun fact: I can’t help but think of Destiny Child. Say my name, y’all. Maybe Beyonce will sue. Cause there is also Florence’s Halo cover floating around the interwebz. It might be floating around HERE. But it also might not.

Heartlines
Heartlines is damn near perfect. Damn near, cause obviously there is another song that beat it to the top spot. But admittedly, technically we might just call it perfect. I am deeply in love with the beginning. But I am also deeply in love with the verses. With the bridge. With the fuckingly amazing chorus. With the message. I mean, come on, keep following the heartlines on your hand? You have to come up with that shit. I love the tribal drums and deep bass and how it totally complements Florence’s voice that brings full range in this one, from whispering to shouting, trembling and breaking it down crisp and clear. I am sincerely hoping for this one to be a single, because it totally deserves to become a universal hymn. My absolutely favorite line in this one is “I’m there with you up against the wall on a Wednesday afternoon.” Because let’s face it: how many times do Wednesday afternoons get screen time in pop songs? Exactly, basically never.

Landscape
Yup, I guess you didn’t expect this one on top of the list. Or did you? One of my absolute favorite songs on Lungs was Swimming which also wasn’t on the regular album, but only available on the special edition. The same with Landscape, which is squeezed in between the demo and the acoustic versions. But damn, what a gem it is! At first it took me a few days til I realized that this and Heartlines isn’t the same song, and once I figured that out all hell broke loose. All positive I-can-finally-listen-to-this-on-its-own hell. It feels more like a Lungs leftover than any other song on the album, probably because it reminds me a lot of Kiss with a fist, even though the song’s atmosphere is a completely different one. But seriously, I love every single thing about it from beginning to end. Those drums are the shit. And I keep humming this tune to myself ever single day, barely able not to burst out singing on the train, cause it is so infectious.
This is probably the place where I should wonder what it is with those amazing extra tracks Florence keeps hiding away from bigger audiences (plus, I got 5 sentences left). I’ve already mentioned Swimming, and her cover of Addicted to love was musical geniousness. Now here is Landscape being my fav of the album and Remain nameless scoring incredibly high. I suspect girl has a vault of treasures hidden away, she’ll not be able to fit them on all the B-Sides she’ll be pushing. Which makes me teary eyed.

All in all, this album is stellar, and I cannot wait to see them perform the songs live (which I hopefully will next spring in Berlin). And it makes me excited for Florence +the Machine albums to come, of course. Cause if she can keep the standard or even manages to improve it there is a hell of a lot goodness in store for us.

Go, give it a listen.

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