Terrifying android Florence Welch returns with her follow-up to the catastrophically successful Lungs. Employing a just-weird-enough sound to allow her to straddle both the pop and indie markets, Flo & co. dominated the music world in 2009, using Lion King-influenced ‘tribalism’ to hide her true cyborgian intentions. As if her quest for world domination wasn’t clear enough (rumour has it she spearheaded a rise of the machines in her native Camberwell), Welch used her considerable musical, commercial and political influence to secure performances at every single outdoor event over the past three years. It should be no surprise then that Ceremonials chronicles the many upgrades that Florence 2.0 has had.
‘Only If For A Night’ sees the Southwark Skynet and her 500 clones take her easily recognisable caterwauling to new heights, incessantly repeating the title over a gradually augmenting texture. Indeed, from the very beginning, Welch shows us that she has no intention of stripping back. While the amount of reverb laid on here convincingly recreates the echo-laden acoustics of the ladies-room toilets where she first made her name, it often has the effect of casting the music down into some sort of digitalised, artificial canyon, leaving only an ‘epic’ blur.
Perhaps this sonic choice is an attempt to create a church-like atmosphere. There is certainly a religious influence throughout much of the album – numerous tracks begin with only organ, typically developing into an all-Florence choir, not to mention the titles of ‘And This And Heaven Too’ and ‘Leave My Body’. Does this mean that Welch has found salvation? Lyrically, it seems too nonsensical for such a premise to be genuine; it’s more likely just another attempt to convince us that she could perhaps be human.
Songwriting is not the issue here. Lead single ‘Shake It Out’, ‘Breaking Down’ and ‘All This And Heaven Too’ show a flair for melody that even the most ardent members of the resistance would be hard pressed to criticise. In fact, every track possesses some element of decent writing, but each invariably succumbs to an overwrought, tiresome and overly digital texture – one of her mission parameters, perhaps. Worst of all is ‘Heartlines’, which boorishly creates the impression of an ‘anthem’, without any of the good qualities of something anthemic. The problem is, nothing on Ceremonials is particularly exciting or interesting. Regardless, we’d better get used to it – Florence will no doubt continue to conquer. She will be back.