by Mary Ryan Karnes
Unlike many American approaches to romance and its many dizzying effects, British band Florence + the Machine’s analysis of love is anything but cookie-cutter. Lead singer Florence Welch, who describes her music as a reflection of her unrelenting emotion, is a powerhouse of vocal talent and gripping personality. The band’s new album Ceremonials certainly portrays stark intensity in every song; however, the instrumentals to which Welch’s vulnerable lyrics are set are repetitive and overbearing. As a whole, Ceremonials achieves resounding emotional effects but fails to deliver adequate instrumental range.
Welch, who admittedly writes all of her songs on hangovers and wears secondhand clothes at performances, wanted the album to consume listeners with both its words and its sounds. Indeed, Ceremonials is initially captivating. In “Shake It Out,” Welch proclaims, “It’s hard to dance with a devil on your back, so shake him off.” The song is arguably the purest showcase of Welch’s vocal range and poetic abilities. “No Light, No Light” successfully fuses pulsating drums with ethereal electronic sounds, creating an eerie and unsure tune. Other songs like “Breaking Down” are positive and relaxed. The album also cleverly incorporates the theme of water into many songs. In “What the Water Gave Me,” a synth keyboard and electric guitar are the backdrop to lyrics like “Let the only sound be the overflow.” The fast-paced song “Heartlines,” although heavy on backup vocals, portrays the power of water and nature to subtle trumpets and mystical chimes. The ballad “Never Let Me Go” shows Welch’s infatuation with the ocean. The consuming effects of Florence + the Machine’s Ceremonials are synonymous with the ocean’s waves: powerful, loud, and largely predictable. Even though Ceremonials is different from other albums, it shows little internal range. This lack of variation makes the album surprisingly mundane after the first few tracks. Each song is accompanied by heavy drums and clamorous instrumental swells that, for the most part, drown Welch’s vocal clarity. Perhaps the British accent or the hangovers also contributed to the difficulty I had understanding many songs, but, at times, the numerous instruments made Florence’s voice sound like it had gone through a machine. Also, Ceremonials included unsavory songs that produced a clash between Welch’s normally fluid voice and her forced, shrill singing in songs like “Strangeness and Charm.” The apocalyptic tune “Seven Devils” started with the words “Holy water cannot save you now” and ended with “I’ll be dead before the day is done.” These words were only made more terrifying by ghostly sound effects and muffled birds’ cries. The most chilling songs on this album did not contribute to the band’s emotional intensity. Rather, they added melodrama and made listeners like me wonder if the band attends Voodoo funerals for fun.
Ceremonials is anything but traditional. The album redefines love as a heavy, serious, and often haunting issue. Florence Welch herself is hardly jovial, and her blunt lyrics and diamond vocals illustrate how seriously she takes the band’s music. The artistry of the album, however, is severely limited because the songs are similar in structure and theme. The first time I heard a song from the album, I was left wanting more. When I listened to Ceremonials in its entirety, however, the magic and power of Florence + the Machine became repetitive. Even though the album is supposed to consume fans, I felt like I was drowning in it. Much like the band’s widely used water motif, Ceremonials proves that too much of a good thing dilutes the talent of a potentially excellent band.