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|Florence And The Machine - Ceremonials Review|
|30-10-2011 09:26 | 0 comment(s)|
| One day a critically acclaimed, commercially successful pop artist will aspire to make a record that sounds small. In a room with perfect acoustics a minimal cohort of musicians will lay down a set of barely-there tracks, vibrant with feeling and pristine instrumentation. They will only break from their masterpiece to watch some pigs fly past the window.
Florence Welch's second album more closely resembles a banshee convention in a wind turbine. It should come with a scarf. There was a reason her first album was called Lungs: Welch gusts hard under her own steam. But on the gale-force Ceremonials the vocals often sound multitracked, and are augmented by a chorus of friends who bay along on songs such as "What the Water Gave Me" (unleashed in the summer) and "Shake It Out" (unveiled more recently), the lead tracks from Ceremonials.
The production is high-church – harps, bells, shimmers, strings and keyboards that seem to breed over the course of the album. The cresting choruses are never less than heroic. As an arty eccentric, Welch is sometimes lazily compared to Kate Bush. Here, though, that tenuous link works. The album's boofing drum sound comes straight out of Bush's 80s output; on balance, a neat trick.
From all this maximalism we can infer that the album's makers have high hopes for its success. Pop's current logic imagines that big-sounding records ought to sell big; that ambition is just another word for lots of post-production timesheets. Certainly, having shifted an impressive 3m copies of Lungs, the stage is set for Welch to flounce on to an international stage already softened up by fellow south Londoner Adele. She is no longer that kooky bohemian from the Camberwell squat scene. She is playing with the big girls now.
There is, of course, nothing inherently wrong with putting a lot of music all in one place – Arcade Fire do it all the time. Indeed, "Breaking Down" suggests that Welch has been listening attentively. The last time she borrowed this enthusiastically – from Gang Gang Dance on "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)" – she had to give the band a writing credit.
So big is not all bad. One of the album's vastest tracks, "Heartlines" – all wild tribal whacking and bawling – also makes for one of its most compelling anthems. Somehow Welch manages to graft the witchier bits of her oeuvre – the animal entrails, a spot of palmistry – on to a killer chorus. Clubby and kaleidoscopic, "Spectrum" sounds like another rallying cry. Smaller treasures fall out of the twister too – Welch's bewildered, wordy verses on "All This and Heaven Too" finally makes a melodic link to Bush.
But Ceremonials never comes down off the high precipice. All this blowsy mainstreaming reaches a nadir with "Never Let Me Go", a dirge that's half Enya, half Evanescence.
It will be instructive to see what happens to Ceremonials in the wake of the failure of Universal's big hope of last year, Clare Maguire – another artist whose capacious bellow came buffeted by too much hot studio air. Welch is leagues better than Maguire; if only there were more substance here and less bluster.
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