‘Ceremonials’ no celebration

By Jessica Cabe

Florence + The Machine made waves last year with the success of “Dog Days Are Over” from their 2009 album Lungs. Fans and critics alike have been eagerly anticipating the band’s follow-up effort. Will Florence Welch fall victim to the sophomore slump?

We found our answer in Ceremonials, released Tuesday in the U.S. The 12 tracks lasting just under an hour represent a new era for the band, but I’m not convinced that’s a good thing.

Ceremonials kicks off with “Only If For a Night,” a more stripped-down tune with the strong, layered vocals in which Flo fans have fallen in love. The song itself is not bad but is a strange choice as an opener, given that it is not particularly arresting or memorable.

Next up are the two tracks that were meant to hold fans over until the album release: “Shake it Out” and “What the Water Gave Me.” The former is a feel-good song about shaking off your problems and dancing. The percussion and vocals are strong, but the melody is forgettable, and the music is missing the depth and layering of the band’s previous work. “What the Water Gave Me” is a mysterious and mythical slow burner. This is the first song on the album comparable in quality to the better parts of Lungs.

The next few songs are pure filler. They don’t hold up next to the stronger tracks, and they should have been left out altogether. “Never Let Me Go” is reminiscent of Kelly Clarkson’s style. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with pop music, Florence can do so much better than this. “Breaking Down” sounds like an ‘80s pop song. It’s not entirely bad; it just doesn’t belong on this album. And “Lover, Lover” sounds rushed and thrown together. The verse and chorus seems disjointed. I fear it is suffering an identity crisis.

Flo redeems herself halfway through the album with “No Light, No Light,” arguably the best song on Ceremonials. Welch’s voice is usually so strong, but she sings with delicate vulnerability in the beginning, coaxing the listener closer to the speakers only to shock them at the booming chorus.

“Seven Devils,” follows as a dark and creepy track perfect for Halloween. The piano part would make a great metal riff, and the rock fan in me begs for heavily distorted guitars to enter. The song is fantastic but could have been even more daring and fresh with a more varied instrumentation.

The rest of the album falls flat. The final song, “Leave My Body,” boasts dark and sweeping music with haunting vocals and lyrics. But it sounds too much like the rest of Ceremonials. The album’s greatest downfall is the lack of variety. Had the band changed its sound enough to make the weaker tracks stand out, the album would have been a solid release through and through.

Over-correction plagues Ceremonials. The problem with Lungs was that the songs were too different stylistically, perhaps due to the variety of producers involved. When I listen to that album, I feel like I could break it into three or four different EPs that would make more sense. But Ceremonials contains songs that sound too similar. The album is almost formulaic in its production. Strong vocals, unique and stand-out percussion, synths and harps make up every song. By the end of my first listen, I could not pick more than a couple standout tracks.

Florence + The Machine have a lot of potential. Lungs was a surprise success, and Ceremonials should not be overlooked entirely. But quality is more important than quantity. The band should have either released an EP with “Only If For a Night,” “What the Water Gave Me,” “No Light, No Light,” “Seven Devils” and “Heartlines,” or they should have taken more time to create an LP that can keep up with these standout tracks.