Florence + the Machine became an unlikely mainstream success last year, largely thanks to the slow-building popularity of the group's hit song, "Dogs Day Are Over." The track was featured prominently on an episode of Glee, and in the inescapable film trailer for Eat Pray Love. The band sang the song with such gusto in a breakout performance at the MTV Video Music Awards that "Florence" was the number one search term on Google the following morning. Now, the band is releasing its follow-up album, Ceremonials. Are critics still enamored?
Yes. The album is really good: In an impressive feat, Florence + the Machine's second album is "even more glorious than their first," says Jim Farber at the New York Daily News. With the "sheer force of her voice," Florence Welch doesn't just sing her songs; she announces them "like royal proclamations" that would "inspire armies of men to march madly into battle." In fact, her vocal instrument is "as much a trumpet as a voice." Add in the songs' grand melodies and maximalist accompaniment, and Ceremonials becomes a seriously impressive effort.
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
It's very impressive — but also flawed: There is a definite lack of restraint on Ceremonials, says Edna Gundersen at USA Today. For many artists, such bombast would "drag songs into hollow, campy swamps of melodrama." But Florence Welch's emotionally raw vocals and the sheer grandeur of the arrangements prevent that. Lyrics frequently revert to clichés — "It's always darkest before the dawn," for example — but the "savage energy" that Welch delivers them with makes the lazy writing forgivable. The result is a "bold, epic album of rare transcendence."
"Ceremonials surges with intensity and spooky atmospheres"
Sadly, the sound is just too big: Ceremonials is "all grandeur without any grace," says Alix Buscovic at BBC. Sure, the arrangements are "richly layered," but too often the album "offers the pomp, but somehow not quite the power" of the group's stellar debut, Lungs. It's missing nuance and subtlety. With that first album, Welch "established herself as Florence, the songstress of craft and great emotion." With her follow-up, "it's a shame she's allowed her machine to take over."
Continue reading for free
We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.
Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.