The always stirring Florence Welch is at it again on Ceremonials, blurring the line between the earthly and the spiritual with her restless rave-ups and pained, emotive vocals that seek release in song. What was fresh on her debut Lungs becomes formula (but the very best kind…) here as Florence cements her status as a tortured, but (over)zealous soul who tries to find joyous redemption and renewal in communal and personal catharsis. Florence has found her calling on Lungs, and now she’s administering to her devotees.
Florence progresses from the occasional religious reference on Lungs (“Who is the lamb?” and “lion-hearted girl” from “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)”) to a full-blown reveling in religious imagery on Ceremonials, heaving mightily about “heaven”, “devils”, and being a “sinner”. It’s this robust fervor and subject matter that fire up and lift up many of the songs on Ceremonials, but the constant exhortation comes at a price. Listener fatigue sets in as the relentless, up-tempo pace and sharply exclamatory vocal tone overwhelms over the course of the album.
Pure joy, unadorned relief, and innocent surprise are hard to come by on Ceremonials, but maybe that’s the point. Florence is in full-on confession mode as she lets fly with her throaty, rueful, emotionally-bruised vocals against strong drum beats, piano and harp runs, church organ swells, and expansive, gospel-like backing vocals on many songs. Like Florence’s constantly agitated vocals, the verse, chorus, verse structures build up and break down, never seeming to achieve peace.
Second official single “No Light, No Light” encapsulates Florence’s sound, voice, and ideas, capturing her in flight (But is it descent or ascension?), supported by hymn-like organ notes, harp trills, an emphatic drum beat, and a whopping, rousing chorus where she decisively proclaims “A revelation in the light of day / You can’t choose what stays / and what fades away.”
Most of the other album tracks are variations of that single, with Florence losing herself to and carried away by the intensity and flow, as she rides the racing crests and dips, summoning the listener to get down to her rave-up. On “Shake It Out” she declares she’s “…ready to suffer.” and on “What the Water Gave Me” she’s a “…beast of burden.”. The situation is dire on “Lover To Lover” where she confesses “I believe there’s no salvation for me.”
There is a sonic, though not lyrical, respite in the form of “Seven Devils”, where Florence sings in a melancholic, contemplative tone amid a slower-paced, menacing thump of drums. If she stopped right then, there would be plenty of sonic fodder to chew on for a while. But no, ever-earnest Florence continues to march on for four more songs, twisting and turning her words amid a cantering pace and harp flourishes on “Heartlines” and conjuring up certain Kate Bush songs on the background chorus of “Leave My Body”.
The Deluxe Edition of the album features four extra tracks. Florence switches to a welcoming, airy register on parts of “Strangeness and Charm”, then lays the religious extolling on thick with the rhythmically-strong “Bedroom Hymns”, going on about “confessions”, “submission”, and “absolution”, all leading to a fiery finale complete with tent revival handclapping at the end of the song.