by Parker Bruce
The new Florence and the Machine album, “Ceremonials”, makes me want to go watch “Pocahontas”. It makes me want to paint with all the colors of the wind, dive off cliffs, and cut through the water with my oar in my deft canoe.
The first three tracks make for quite an emotional 15 minutes. “Only For the Night,” sets the bar hugely high for the rest of the album as it positions itself as one of Florence’s best tracks after just a few listens. It’s smartly constructed, not giving everything away at the beginning. Giggly harp and piano do dalliances through it at moments and in the last minute or so, everything comes home as a chorus sings: “Yeah ee yeah ee yeah.” “Shake it Out” acts a distillation of who Florence was and who she’s trying to become. Her lyrics have rarely been as relatable as they are here: “And I’ve been a fool and I’ve been blind/I could never leave the past behind/I can see no way/I can see no way/I’m always dragging that horse around”. She’s a mess and so is the listener, and she’s trying to get over it and it’s kind of working. She’s preaching to the choir here and doing it masterfully. Then comes “What the Water Gave Me” with its curving and interloping vocal parts and panning chorus. After the triumph of that triumvirate of tracks, we get tracks that show off different sides of Florence: “Lover to Lover” which gives me Bonnie Raitt, “Let’s Give ‘Em Something to Talk About” vibes (it’s that darn piano) and reminds me of listening to mid-90’s radio. “Breaking Down” is super dialed back with Florence giving an almost unrecognizably tame vocal performance (no belting here). It’s very Beatles-like with its far-off sound, relaxed background “ahhhs” and violin.
The tracks near the end of the album continue to wow: “Heartlines” chorus comes whooshing in like a giant cloak blowing in the wind. The drums throw you across the room, the handclaps snap and speed along in a “Single Ladies” fashion, and you could be blown down the street just listening to it. It’s an almost comical soundtrack to listen to living in New York because its pure classical intimations are the opposite of everything Greenwich Village. That’s what makes it fun listening to on the way to class. Pretend you’re darting through the battlefield as you attempt to navigate West Fourth St. Listening to “Heartlines” will make you wonder if Florence borrowed the fur vest Zola Jesus was wearing when she performed here a few weeks ago. “Spectrum” is a harp dance anthem begging to be unleashed, soundtracking the sexy after party when the soldiers conjured in “Heartlines” return from battle. This album is a gold mine for theme party ideas. A lot of the songs come across as modern takes on waltzes. You can’t help but picture the swoosh of a full ball gown when the “Heartlines” chorus comes in.
Florence was quoted as saying her first album, the wonderful “Lungs” was “kind of…all over the place.” Honestly, that’s what I loved about it so much. “Ceremonials” is filled with splendor. Florence always manages to achieve the beautiful in everything she does.
Parker Bruce is music editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org