An album titled Ceremonials evokes a grandiose, spiritual sound—and this is exactly what Florence + the Machine deliver. Expectations ran high after their debut album, Lungs, mesmerized audiences with its dark, frenzied backdrop and lead singer Florence Welch’s powerful vocals. With Ceremonials, the band pushes aside its previous raw, garage-indie-rock style to make way for soulful, anthemic vocals and a smoother overall tone.
The album was preceded by the late-August release of singles “Shake It Out” and “What the Water Gave Me,” both of which critics reviewed favorably. In an interview, Welch confirmed that “What the Water Gave Me” was named after a painting by surrealist Frida Kahlo, the same painter who inspired the title of Coldplay’s fourth album, Viva La Vida. She also added that the song’s lyrics were inspired by the life of British author Virginia Woolf.
These seem like lofty premises for a pop song, no matter how baroque. But “What the Water Gave Me” remains big and intriguingly bold, offering cascading tribal chants and chamber-resounding vocals that almost live up to its high inspirations.
Welch goes for quality and depth, her voice determined to wring every ounce of emotion from the album’s powerful rifts. Yet at the same time, we still get our fill of Lungs-esque gasps and soaring crescendos in numbers like “Spectrum” and “Seven Devils,” where Welch emphatically mourns, “It’s a melody / It’s a final cry / It’s a symphony.”
Ceremonials is a symphony indeed—but one that comes off as a bit over-eager. Combine histrionic harps and Dark Knight-style drums with an echoing gospel choir that slightly overstays its welcome, and Welch seems to outdo herself at times. While each track is compelling on its own, the album is exhausting to experience in a single sitting.
While Florence + the Machine may have vast ideas to spare, there are only so many dramatic overtures and London-shaking drumbeats that we can endure before we wish for a little less majesty and a tad more grace.