Florence Welch, the drama queen. "Over-the-top" is a suitable way to describe what she does with the songs on "Ceremonials," her second album that shows no signs of a sophomore slump.
Tribal drums meld with a heavenly choir of what seems like a thousand voices, all of which sound recorded in an echoing cave. Harp, strings, toy pianos, eerie sound effects - they combine to create left-of-center pop anthems that sound equal parts U2 and Tori Amos.
Gothic, Celtic, bluesy, danceable rock: Sounds like a mess, yet quite the opposite -- due in part to Welch's hurtling vocals, some of the most bewitching in both the rock and pop worlds right now.
Musical growth comes in the form of cohesion - something Florence + the Machine's debut, "Lungs," lacked. For "Ceremonials," Welch rode out the wave of success afforded to her by breakout hit "Dog Days Are Over," and instead of going the shiny pop route, delved into her own darkness, aided by producer Paul Epworth.
From what we can tell from the 12-track, 56-minute "Ceremonials," Welch is a sucker for love: romance and heartbreak sharing equal billing, and always in a dire manner. Like we said, drama queen - but in the best sense of the phrase.
So which songs on "Ceremonials" stand out from the pack? Here's our track-by-track review of each song.
You be the judge: What do you think of Florence + the Machine's "Ceremonials"? Tweet us your own review at @billboard (using hashtag #bbflorence). The best tweets will be posted on Billboard.com in the coming days.
1. Only If For Night - Harp-heavy start leads into one of the album's many booming piano and tribal drum crescendos and chorus-fueled singalongs. Track grows repetitive, trying just a little too hard to be an anthem.
2. Shake It Out - Welch's goth-pop allure is summed up in the chorus of the album's dramatic first single: "It's hard to dance with the devil on your back, so shake him off." She's a different kind of pop star, as if Flo fans needed to be told that.
3. What The Water Gave Me - Feels more like fiction than most of Flo's lyrics. A drowning narrative spread across five+ minutes of soaring, singalong pop-rock. The word "epic" is almost too weak.
4. Never Let Me Go - R&B-tinged piano ballad that feels like a better fit on the more disjointed "Lungs" than the cohesively haunting "Ceremonials."
5. Breaking Down - An album highlight that brings a much-needed uptempo jolt. It's refreshing to hear Florence whispering rather than vocally stomping - which, she does break into toward the end, and to a chill-inducing effect.
6. Lover to Lover - Rejoice, rejoice - There are glorious vocal runs, there are choir chants of salvation. Flo lands somewhere between gospel and "Heard It Through The Grapevine," but you know, British. A bit Adele of her.
7. No Light, No Light - "I'd do anything to make you stay / Tell me what you want me to say," she pleads atop the album's most pulsating tribal drumbeat. Musically, the song exudes utter strength; lyrically, Welch is on her knees.
8. Seven Devils - The language used by Welch to discuss "Ceremonials" brought to mind Ouija board seances, but "Seven Devils" is the album's only track to fully deliver the feeling, via eerie strings. Stunning.
9. Heartlines - Florence and her chorus are muddled by big drums that recall Kanye West's "Power." However, lyrical specificity ("In some way, I'm there with you / Up against the wall on a Wednesday afternoon") and a brief tribal refrain redeem as the track progresses.
10. Spectrum - Holy gay club anthem, Batman. "Say my name," she howls then later croons, both filled with sensuality. Welch's impressive vocal range and volume are firing on all cylinders here.
11. All This and Heaven Too - From the get-go, Welch laments a girlish ineptitude at love ("And the heart is hard to translate / It has a language of its own"), but the take-away is a sweet girl-likes-boy story atop sweeping pop strings. A rom-com synch is imminent.
12. Leave My Body - Flo conjures one last bit of otherworldly spirits via call-and-response with her chorus, who sass it up as much as she does. "Don't need a husband, don't need no wife," she croons, later adding on the chorus, "I don't want your future / I don't need your past."