The highly anticipated follow-up to 2009's 'Lungs' has a much larger and cohesively identifyable sound, which is perhaps the problem. While this collection of thirteen songs still has the screaming punch and confidence of Welch's vocals, it lacks everything else that made 'Lungs' great. Here is where production comes in to play. Admitted by Welch herself, the first album was written and recorded "wherever and whenever" possible, spanning a few years and in settings such as a synagogue and old pool. 'Ceremonials' was produced exclusively by Paul Epworth (think Adele's 21) and it is blaringly clear...this record is too produced.
While all of the songs do seem to 'fit' the album title and are mostly grandiose in style and sound, they tend to squash the singular beauty of Welch's awesomely powerful cry with cheap or chinzy back-up vocals and fills. Florence Welch doesn't need back-up. The songs could almost run into each other because of their similarities in both tone and type (a lot have some sort of reference to water as bringing life or death and heavy drums). The fourth song, "Never Let Me Go," while beautiful, has a chanting chorus that sounds like something Celine Dion would have sung ten years ago. Too many of the tracks have hints of Sinead O'Connor tambre with none of the stand-out or stand alone power that each track on 'Lungs' had. After hearing the entire album, "Shake it Out" was definitely the best choice for the first official single, but is misleading as it belies the rest of the collection.
'Ceremonials' is at the very least, a creative leap from 'Lungs' and is probably less commercial - which isn't necessarily a negative thing. But if you're looking for another 'Dog Days Are Over," forget it. It's not that it's a bad album by any means, just a bit disappointing. Despite that, Welch seems more confident in her sound than ever and seems to keep evolving as an artist. Her voice is unprecedented. There's no denying how incredibly talented this woman is. Trying to sing along with her should be done under the supervision of professionals. She is raw talent, power, style and beauty wrapped into one and has quickly become a force to be reckoned with on the pop charts. Perhaps 'Ceremonials' is just one of those albums that grows on you the more you listen to it.
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