Nobody expected pop-stardom for Florence and the Machine. When "Dog Days Are Over" suddenly burst forth from the ether, proclaiming Florence Welch a superstar of Adele proportions, it was as much a shock to her as anyone. Instead of retreating to the nearest recording studio to craft a follow-up, Florence spent well over a year touring, gaining the kind of vocal self-assurance usually reserved for the likes of Freddie Mercury. Finally, the follow-up to 2009's "Lungs" sees the light of day.
Opening with a lush, skewed set of strings, "Ceremonials" takes a minute to really announce its arrival. The first track, "Only If For a Night" is a perfect movie-ending song, so much so that the album doesn't really feel like it's begun until Florence announces that "It's always darkest before the dawn" near the start of the second song, the stunning new single "Shake It Out".
Before giving way to the standard industrial/world music drum beat, it begins with a simple plea over sparse organ, and Florence somehow manages to sound simultaneously wounded and fierce. "Regrets collect like old friends/Here to relive your darkest moments/I can see no way, I can see no way/And all of the ghouls come out to play", she announces. If there is any justice in the world, this song will do for the winter ahead what "Rolling in The Deep" did for this past summer.
By the time that lead single "What The Water Gave Me" starts, you're hooked. "And time goes quicker/Between the two of us/Oh, my love, don’t forsake me/Take what the water gave me" she belts. The song is named for a Frida Kahlo painting, and it's not a stretch to imagine the song as a soundtrack to its subject, a surreal bathtub scene that somehow seems peaceful and still despite all the weirdness laid bare at her feet.
Even the lesser songs are powerful. "Lover to Lover", a Motown by way of Madonna pastiche, is the closest she gets to a "fun" song on the entire album, though it's still chock-full of forceful anger. The driving, staccato piano that serves as the crescendo constrains the emotional tangents just enough to feel lighter than it's subject matter.
"All This And Heaven Too" is a lovelorn complaint about the limitations of language. When Florence laments to he listener that "All my stumbling phrases never amounted to anything worth this feeling," you expect (or hope) that she's lying or playing coy. Surely by now, Florence Welch has realized the power of her own words.
"Ceremonials" is out November 15th via Universal/Island Records.