In a recent interview with Billboard magazine, Florence Welch confessed her love for Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, R&B and rap music. That's not the kind of resolutely commercial pop you'd associate with the raven-haired Londoner with the organic rock sound.
Nevertheless, a bright spark at her record label suggested she get to America post haste and start working with some top US producers for her second album. “Maybe I could bring my own take on it”, Florence said. “It got put in my diary to go out to America for a week, to start writing the new record. And then the diary got sent to me and I looked at it and just went, ‘No. No. No. No. No!’ I can't do that. This is too weird. I can't just suddenly leave behind everything that made Lungs.”
This will be good news indeed for fans of Florence’s Renaissance maiden gone feral act because she cleaves to the whirling demonic sound of Lungs like a woman possessed on Ceremonials. In fact, it’s louder, more unhinged and more overwhelming than her much-loved debut. The fact that she sold three million copies of her much-loved debut may or may not have had a part to play in Flo giving us another lungful on her new album.
The rest of us (and Welch divides opinion like Vegemite sambos) may see the offer to work with opposite musical forces as a lost opportunity. Like her first album, Ceremonials threatens to burst wide open with sheer momentum and force. It almost combusts with its own energy. With Adele producer Paul Epworth again at the controls, it beats to full, alarming capacity with tribal drums, major piano chords and celestial harps. Centre stage though is Welch’s stentorian wail, an instrument that bellows rather than breathes, but given that Epworth coaxed the best from Adele on 21, who can really blame Florence for going for broke?
On the likes of What The Water Gave Me and Leave My Body, in which she sounds like she's sobbing into the ether, Florence faces into mounting terror and doom. Breaking Down mercifully dials down the drama for a gorgeous mid-tempo song with violins, echoing piano and haunting harmonies. Lover to Lover also has a rare hesitancy and she nearly out does Adele as she hits the very top of her towering voice on a Motown-like sweep that recalls Nowhere to Run.
It's all huge, spooky and dramatic but also blustery in places. An hour of Flo can be exhausting. There’s no doubting her passion and the punch she delivers but the Vegemite crowd may be left wondering where the actual tunes are. Either way, you’d be well advised to wrap yourself up and have a Brontë novel handy – Ceremonials is one for the wintry nights ahead.