A lot can happen to a daydreaming girl in the world, and in the last few years, it’s all happened for Florence. The debut album she dreamt up in her bedroom in South London burst into being and swept the planet, selling over three million copies, winning the coveted Brits ‘Best Album’ award and etching itself indelibly into the popular consciousness. Now she has been everywhere: the girl has seen the world and the world has seen the girl. And after months of laying low on home turf, writing and recording in the London she’s long been in love with, Florence returns with her triumphant second album. Ceremonials is a stunningly accomplished record by an artist teetering on the wind-blown top of her game, an extraordinary testament to what Florence refers to as “my incorrigible maximalism”. The pounding epiphanic positivism of ‘Spectrum’; the galloping massed-ranks majesty of ‘All This And Heaven Too’ and ‘Shake It Out’; the triumphant emotional battle cries of ‘No Light No Light’ and ‘Heartlines’. Spend a little time with Ceremonials and what strikes you first and foremost is the apparent confidence of its execution.
“This is the first time I’ve made a record with a sort of overarching, cohesive sound” says Florence: “It’s a proper studio album in that sense: a group of songs that paint a unified picture of where I am in my life right now.”
Recorded with her full band over five weeks this summer in Abbey Road’s legendary Studio 3, ‘Ceremonials’ is another product of her long-running collaboration with producer Paul Epworth. Together they’ve created an expansive art-pop vision that can be both captivatingly tender while still frequently soaring to places where it can overwhelm the senses like an emotive tidal wave. It’s a rich tapestry that unpicks the conventions of classic pop, shoots them through a black hole and reconstitutes them into a multi-layered, future-primitive stomp. And underpinning it all, Florence’s beguiling, epic vocals. A mature masterpiece that confirms its creator is in for the long haul.
“I feel like it’s a record made by someone becoming a woman, becoming a grown-up. And it’s about all the problems that go hand-in-hand with that” says Florence. “Lungs was very much the work of someone wrestling with sort of simultaneously being a teenager and being an adult. This is the work of someone who’s trying to grow up I guess? But probably failing.”
At twenty five, the art-school dropout has done much of her growing up amid the maelstrom of her whirling worldwide success. In 2010 she broke America in spectacular style, her monster hit Dog Days blazing a trail across the nation, taking the charts and the airwaves by storm. She wrote and recorded a heart-stopping track for the Twilight: Eclipse soundtrack and performed Dog Days to a rapt and truly global audience at the MTV VMA awards. The viewing figures were almost a billion, and the following day Florence was the most Googled person on the planet.
In the last year she’s graced the stages of Saturday Night Live, Good Morning America, The Colbert Report, the 53rd Grammy Awards – where she performed as part of an all-girl, all-star Aretha Franklin tribute and was nominated for Best New Artist – the 83rd Academy Awards, Anna Wintour’s obscenely star-studded annual Met Ball, and the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo. Time Magazine ranked her at number fifty-one in their 2011 list of the one hundred most influential people in the world. She has officially graduated from up-and-coming fashion influence to full-blown style icon. She’s hung out with her musical heroes and heard their blessings and gushing praise. Even Beyoncé has acknowledged that Florence and The Machine was a key influence on her last album.
“It’s certainly a very different thing this time around: making an album that you know a lot of people are anticipating” reflects Florence; “…but I’ve just tried to do what I would’ve done anyway. This one is a real attempt to just make exactly the kind of music I want to hear: dramatic and really huge and kind of spooky. I want it more than anything to have an overwhelming effect on the listener: I want it to make people feel something.” Feel something you irrefutably will. Far from being one of those sell-out-and-go-pop second records that so many promising new artists settle for, Ceremonials is a wholly more experimental and challenging body of work. “I wanted to push the aggression of the sound” Florence says; “Bigger drums, bigger bass sounds: as big and as powerful as we could go. We did much more experimenting this time with electronic sounds, but overall I think we’ve ended up with a more organic-sounding album. It’s a kind of organized chaos.”
Since her days of art college and squat parties and gigs in grotty pubs, the life of Florence Welch has gone all the way into the stratosphere. With Ceremonials, Florence is back from outer space and back to what it is she does best, making forward-thinking, unclassifiable, truly overwhelming music. Some artists respond to a successful debut album by reacting against it; attempting to disown the very qualities that drew people to them in the first place. “I couldn’t do that if I tried!” says Florence. “Lungs seemed like so many records rolled into one that I wouldn’t even know what I’d be reacting against.” Instead, Florence Welch has dramatically delivered on the promises of Lungs. “It’s a big-sounding album? I guess there’s no getting around that. I’m attracted to that sense of being overwhelmed by something. If there’s a chance that I might respond that way while these songs are playing around me, then someone else might too. And that’s surely the point, isn’t it?”