A debut album must grasp the attention of listeners like a vice, and invade their minds so that the songs that have them moving their feet will stay fixed in their brains throughout the day.
Florence and the Machine’s Lungs, released in July of 2009, did exactly that, capturing the attention of audiences worldwide with the almost manic ferocity of lead vocalist Florence Welch’s soaring and mystical voice.
In their follow-up, Ceremonials, released October 31, the Machine does exactly what a band wants to do in their second album: grow.
This album is all about intimacy; the intimacy between lovers, and, more importantly, the intimacy a person has with themselves. It is introspection in musical form.
Through lyrics that are spoken not only to a lover, but also to herself, Welch creates a relationship rarely available between artists and their listeners. Unlike Lungs, Ceremonials requires not only listening, but also the attention of the listener.
How else could someone catch the imagery, the mental state of the artist herself in her words?
“No light, no light in your bright blue eyes, I never knew daylight could be so violent,” Welch belts in “No Light, No Light.” Such an image could be overlooked by the casual listener, but what could be more terrifying than looking into a lover’s eyes and seeing nothing, as though they were dead?
“And would you leave me if I told you what I’ve become?” She continues on the same track. “‘Cause it’s so easy to sing it to a crowd, but it’s so hard, my love, to say it to you, all alone.”
Such intimacies are as pervasive as water, which provides a subject in almost half of the tracks throughout the album. The course of the songs functions essentially the same way a wave does.
Slowly it begins to build, not unnoticed by the listeners’ ears, but not garnering their attention until it begins to grow, larger and larger. With “Breaking Down,” listeners begin to realize that this album is getting quite lively, just before “Lover to Lover” and “No Light, No Light” break over their heads and overwhelm them with power and the ferocity seen in the Machine’s debut.
In these two tracks, Welch delivers the vocals as to a lover who has displeased her significantly, crashing about the auditors’ heads as would a yelling match.
She grows into a warning, mystical being in “Seven Devils,” saying, “Holy water cannot help you now, see, I’ve had to burn your kingdom down. And no rivers and no lakes can put the fire out; I’m gonna raise the stakes, I’m gonna smoke you out.”
With that, the album begins to smooth out, though still swirling with the remaining power of the crash, until the final track, “Leave My Body,” gradually repeats the same lyrics until the listener can be brought to a close, as a wave gradually recedes back to the sea before repeating the process all over again.
Ceremonials is one album that will illicit more than a light listen. It will build, and grow, and crash over you until you can’t help but experience it once again.