Sunday, January 29, 2012

Albums of 2011 # 3: Florence + The Machine – Ceremonials

I didn’t really get into Lungs, Florence Welch’s debut album from 2009. A few key tracks off that release made it on to a couple pod playlists I compiled at the time, but on the whole I was rather put off by much of the hype and hoopla surrounding the release of Lungs. For all that Florence had/has a great voice, the level of hyperbole felt disproportionate to a lot of the actual material. You know ... new thing, plus highly unusual thing, equals next big thing – that seemed almost like the default position adopted by tastemakers charged with offering an opinion at the time.

While Florence’s 2011 follow-up, Ceremonials, generally received a similarly favourable response, the reaction felt a tad more considered and balanced this time around. I guess the shock value or novelty factor – Welch’s unique voice, the multiple layers of sound, odd song structures – has worn off a little. One thing that has changed now of course is the level of expectation surrounding Florence + The Machine; no longer is the band the new kid on the block, and that more than anything else may help explain why critics weren’t falling over each other to rave about Ceremonials.

And where one prominent local blogger bemoaned “but where are the songs?” when assessing Ceremonials, I can’t agree that it is an inferior work overall. Sure, the lyrical content might not be quite as strong, but as Spin Magazine rather painfully put it: ... “she's so much better than her material that her material is rendered immaterial” ... hmmm, quite.

Tracks like ‘Shake It Out', ‘What The Water Gave Me’ (clip below), and ‘No Light, No Light’, are every bit as good as, if not better than, much of the material found on Lungs, and for me the orchestration, the anthemic quality of the songs – aided by multi-tracked vocals and the addition of choral backup – and the epic widescreen grandeur of Ceremonials cements its place as one of the best “alternative” (whatever that actually means these days now that the lines have been blurred to the extent they have) albums of the year. And hey, given that this is not my regular genre of choice, and considering I was pretty cynical about Florence to begin with, it must have been a fairly decent album to have made a convert out of me!

Download: the aforementioned tracks, plus ‘Only If For A Night’, and ‘Never Let Me Go’.

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