Friday, October 28, 2011
review- florence and the machine- 'ceremonials'
Yup, I got my dirty little mitts on the new Florence and the Machine record early. A friend recommended I listen to 'Lungs' one night after hearing me rave about Neko Case (as anyone who knows me will tell you, I often rave about Neko Case). 'Lungs' has always been somewhat of a guilty pleasure for me- I'm not sure why, there's really nothing embarrassing about listening to it- it's very powerful and provocative pop music. I suppose any blatantly pop music that I listen to, I do so with a bit of trepidation and 'Lungs' would fall firmly into that category. What I found was that I liked several of the songs a great deal, but often despite a particularly light pop chorus or some kind of production flourish that I often found annoying in most typical pop fare. There were some undeniably powerful songs and ideas being knocked around throughout that little pop album, though, there was no denying it. This is what made my first listen to 'Ceremonials' such a joyful event- basically Florence Welch took the massive commercial capital that she has been tirelessly building over the last two years and not only expanded immensely on all of 'Lungs's best attributes, but she managed to mature light years as a songwriter, artist and arranger in the process beyond my wildest imaginings. 'Ceremonials' is a fantastic album, period. The fact that it will doubtlessly blow up Florence's already gargantuan popularity even further does nothing to diminish this either.
Of the songs on 'Lungs' my favourites were always 'Dog Days Are Over,' 'Cosmic Love' (possibly one of the most fascinating love songs I've ever heard) and 'Blinding.' Somehow these songs have all been managed to be met and bested in this set time and time again. The album simply never lets up. To me the closest thing to a 'weak' track would be 'Lover to Lover.' It's a bit like listening to 'Purple Rain' and being amazed that 'Computer Blue' is the weak track. The songs are infused with a graceful vibrancy that can't be faked (most try and fall on their faces) and a great deal of the imagery that fills the lyrics concerns the surreality of memory, the elusive beauty of life and even a healthier-than-expected serenity that shouldn't be so firmly entrenched in someone so incredibly young thrust so quickly into the spotlight. And yet, such is just a part of Florence's substantial gifts. She wisely retained her backing band, obviously utilized their talents as a springboard for her ideas and songs to their absolute maximum effect and somehow maintains a humble perspective over something which her cult of personality could easily tower over. Call it a miracle of English reserve- most would crumble under mountains of hubris were they in her shoes. Isabelle Summers remains the fulcrum of the band, an emphasis on percussion continues to be the recipe for what moves everything forward, plenty of harp and beautiful use of strings continue to be the main order. Somehow these songs all blossom in this particular arrangement in wildly unpredictable ways that never even hint at falling into anything even remotely resembling familiar territory. The gospel backdrop that is wrapped around several tracks here (the most notable example being the five minute plus single 'What the Water Gave Me') is nothing short of breathtaking. These elements should not work together, and yet here they do as if that were the only way they could. It's like listening to an entirely new musical vocabulary being created. It reminds me of listening to 'Hounds of Love' for the first time.
The extras on the deluxe edition are worth their weight as well. The acoustic version of 'Breaking Down' actually bests the full arrangement from the album and the extra tracks do little to validate their place as extra tracks- they hint at vast and exciting future possibilities themselves (i.e. the Siouxsie Sioux-worthy murk of 'Bedroom Hymns,' which could/should be twice as long as it is).
Florence has been quoted often as saying that the album was easy to make. This would explain the way that it seemed to appear completely out of nowhere right on the heels of an American tour that could only be described as a victory lap. Florence, we kneel before you. If only all of our guilty pleasures were as good to us as you have been.