Regular Trashed contributor Charlotte Jarman dissects Florence’s latest album
It’s Saturday night. I’m sitting at home being told that my Saturday night “starts right here”, the studio audience are whipped into a frenzy. A mentally ill person sings a Bruno Mars song and is told by Gary Barlow he’s gonna be massive, and a famous chav disagrees. Then the guest performer is introduced by an overexcited VT. A statuesque figure graces the stage and there is silence.
The very idea of Florence performing on a show like the X Factor would be sacrilege to some of her devoted fans, but it’s an indication of just how massive she has become, and of course she makes a mockery of the contestants on this ludicrous show. The performance is to promote her new album which has reached the number one position the very same day: ‘Ceremonials’.
It would be impossible for me to review this album without sounding like a gushing fan girl, but I have tried my best, so here goes:
The opener, ‘Only for a Night’, has a mammoth task at hand. The first song on an eagerly anticipated second album, it could have easily been a dud, but is rather a slow ominous builder. The proverbial drum roll heralding the arrival of something spectacular.
For what is essentially a song about getting rid of a hangover ‘Shake it Out’ is a major contributor to the album. It’s clear to see Florence and producer Paul Epworth are fans of the echo. Epworth – having previously worked with Jack Penate (prime example of echoey guitar music that isn’t The Smiths) and Friendly Fires – is an indie genius. The vocals are stacked high and layered upon like a teetering wedding cake, but the result is an astounding cathartic cannonball of magnificence.
The next track explores a darker subject all together. To fully appreciate ‘What the Water Gave Me’ you should read Virginia Woolf’s suicide note to her husband, as the lyrics reference her tragic death. Florence also draws on the influence of Frieda Kahlo’s painting by the same name. The song itself takes on a sombre haunting quality, and the tension is heightened by the monk like chanting before the chorus creating a gothic masterpiece.
Flowing seamlessly comes “Never Let Me Go”. The song moves into an altogether tender mood. Its use of minimal instruments and heavy focus on choral backing are a soothing caress. The soft backing vocals mimic ‘The Arms of the Ocean’ and the steady rhythmic pattern is a perfect lullaby. Listen to it and feel your insides melt like butter on hot toast.
At first ‘Breaking Down’ appears to be a light-hearted melodic pop song strategically placed to pick up the pace and to lighten the mood. But it soon pulls back the cloak and reveals itself to be a story of a sinister creature in the corner of her eye. Florence takes us back to relive repressed childhood fears. The effect of a jovial melody contrasting with such dark lyrics is strangely compelling.
Listening to Florence’s first album ‘Lungs’ it would have been hard to imagine an album that equalled it’ standard. But ‘Ceremonials’ exceeds expectations. Darker themes, various textures of sounds and of course the accompanying choir In some places they create a gospel sound but coupled with Florence’s gargantuan voice and capacity to hold a note for a really really long time, the overall result is always a colossal sound. It’s as if she’s finished touring Lungs, sat down with cup of tea and thought: let’s just do the same again but bigger.
For more on Florence and the Machine, visit her website.