Success can change a girl, but from the moment she announced her return with a song based around an image of Virginia Woolf’s suicide and named after a neurotic Frida Kahlo painting, any doubts that Flossie would let global success dampen her possessing spirits were duly drowned. Retaining the full-on and fantastical atmosphere that made ‘Lungs’ so beloved, ‘Ceremonials’ was a more consistent, mature and band-driven record, but never stinted on the colossal choruses or the Sturm und Drang.Not a second album that needed to reinvent everything, it just buffed up her vocals, her arrangements and her billowy dresses to the ultimate degree.
Its success through single-minded idiosyncrasy, and the fact that she’s now playing bloody stadiums, didn’t come as much surprise to anyone familiar with Florence; though prone to kooking it up, she’s actually as much steel as she is flounce. What was more of a shock was that she got to take such a grand and strange album (recorded in Abbey Road and with one eye trained on Spiritualized and Suicide) onto the X Factor stage.
But the truth was that ‘Ceremonials’ amounted to pop in its purest sense, as something grand and strange and with ambitions higher than mere humanity, as the triple-headed priestess-muse Florence depicted on its sleeve suggested. Themed around ideas of ritual and cleansing, sacrifices and exorcisms, drownings, demons and devils, it stopped at nothing in its quest for emotional and spiritual release.
In ‘Shake It Out’, Florence officiated a platinum-standard piece of cathartic power-pop in which a hangover becomes a stand-in for emotional malaise in general; in ‘Spectrum’ she peaked new heights of stratospheric space oddity, celebrating the carnivals of Gay Pride and their colourful defiant love (“Say my name and every colour illuminates/We are shining and we will never be afraid again”). ‘Never Let Me Go’ was the most unashamedly wallowing of gospel-dusted power ballads in which she gave herself up to the waves, while ‘No Light, No Light’ returned to the heaven-shaking cataclysmic lovers’ spat vibes of ‘Cosmic Love’, and ‘Breaking Down’ cast a wry, resolute eye at an oncoming spell of gloom over jaunty, Lennonish piano.
Overwrought? Over-sung? Over the top? Well, sure, but that’s the whole point. DM
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