Ceremonials, by Florence and the Machine
Suggested by Helene Walker
I’d heard the name Florence and the Machine, but I’d no clue about the music.
That’s not surprising, really. The name is certainly memorable, a fine mashup of a maiden aunt’s moniker and a hit of robotic technology, conjuring up an ageing poster for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, or an uprising against the residents of the Magic Roundabout. And the music side of the equation, the fact that I’ve no clue what to expect? Surely you know me by now, and the black holes in my musical knowledge from which no salient fact can escape. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d likely mumble “like Mumford and Sons, innit” before slinking off to my Citadel of Ignorance. And before you ask, I’ve no clue what Mumford and Sons sound like either.
A quick pre-Google listen helps set the scene, somewhat. Florence, it seems, is an actual member of the band: Florence Welch. She’s the singer. Then there’s keyboardist Isabella Summers, guitarist Rob Ackroyd, and harpist Rob Monger amongst others. So they have a harpist as a major player! That’s quirky. And if Rob’s business card doesn’t read “Rob Monger, Harpmonger” then he’s doing something wrong.
Allegedly, Florence’s voice has been favourably compared to such stalwarts as Kate Bush, Tori Amos, PJ Harvey and Bjork. That’s’ fine company to keep, although each of those fine vocalists do live far south of the Weirdness Meridian. That’s something I think the band would embrace – they have a harpmonger, for Pete’s sake – but if I’m honest, I don’t think Flo is particularly off kilter on Ceremonials. She’s got a great voice, of that there’s no doubt, but I’d liken her sound to Sia and other modern chart successes. I suppose Sia does hide herself behind the Crazy Fringe too, so the populist comment still stands.
Flo and the Tech are branded Indie Popsters, but to call Ceremonials Indie Pop would be reductive. There’s a grandness of scale to these songs, a courtly finish that’s almost Classical. Words like “Baroque Pop” and “Art Rock” are bandied around like pink shrimps and white mice, but the band definitely embrace that eccentricity and run headlong towards it. You might expect this to add a wearying pretension to the sound, but it’s always accessible, and always edifying. By presenting as something more substantial than generic chart fare, the band achieves a delicate balance on the tightrope of entertainment and artistry. Other acts that try this seem pompous on one side or pretentious on the other, but Florence and chums pull it off well.
Happily, I recognised one song on Ceremonials, the multi-platinum single Shake It Out. With its soulful and understated intro that booms into an almost gospel frenzy, it’s my clear standout track. There’s not a single song here that gives me pause and purses my lips. Every one is delicious, from the epic and howling What The Water Gave Me to the anthemic No Light No Light. IF I had to criticise, I’d say the opening five tracks are so strong that the rest of the album has a hard time matching pace, but that’s a manufactured complaint.
Although it’s askance of my usual tastes, I can’t give Ceremonials anything less that a majestic 8/10. It’s bombastic, and rather tiring, but it’s always, always, exciting.