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`Florence' revels in her sweet despair.

Byline: Craig S. Semon



Florence + The Machine (Universal Republic)

* * *-1/2

Florence Welch is one lean, demented and pasty white machine and "Ceremonials," her follow-up to her multiplatinum breakthrough "Lungs," will bring color to your skin and make you feel flushed, all in a good way.

Although I was hoping she was going to continue the trend of naming her albums after organs ("Lungs," "Brain," "Heart," "Kidney," "Spleen"; you get the idea) so you could mix and match your Florence + The Machine's records and come up with a macabre version of "Operation" (or "Alien Autopsy," perhaps), the 25-year-old art-school dropout-turned-unlikely-overnight-sensation is worth celebrating.

And she knows how to work her way around entrails, whether they are her own, an animal's or another's.

Welch is visited by a former school chum (dead, of course) in her dreams (where else?) on the leadoff track, "Only If For a Night." Here, on this celebratory eulogy/dance macabre opus, the worlds of the living and the dead momentarily collide, collapse on each other and become one. Welch nonchalantly sings about doing cartwheels on people's graves and dancing tiptoe through the tombstones as if this is normal behavior when visiting a cemetery (which, the last time I checked, it certainly is not). Her uncanny vocals and harrowing cries are greeted by chiming church bells, heavy chamber piano, booming drums and choir of disembodied Welches. Unfolding with the intensity of a fevered dream but, at the same time, having a majestic, wide-scoping reach, our flaming red haired, gothic heroine is elegant, enchanting and elegiac.

Who needs "Dancing with the Stars" when you have Welch dancing with Satan on "Shake It Out." And doing the lambada with Lucifer is the least of her problems. Wrestling with inner demons and lingering regrets she has collected over the years like old friends, Welch wants to rattle the (real and imagined) skeletons in her closet and conduct open-heart surgery on herself. Singing her guts out over murky keyboards, shimmering guitars and lively tribal rhythms, Welch cries, "And I am done with my graceless heart/So tonight I'm gonna cut it all out then restart/'Cause I like to keep my issues strong/It's always darkest before the dawn." Anyone else delivering this sentiment would come off as an over-the-top drama queen. Not Welch. She grabs hold of these words and delivers them for all their worth.

Welch prepares to lay down in a watery grave with a pocketful of stones and self-piteous pit in her stomach on the chilling suicide ode, "What the Water Gave Me." Suffering a severe case of Ophelia-envy (but later breaking into a pitch-perfect P.J. Harvey fever), Welch pleads, "Oh, my love, don't forsake me." Before she gives out her last, unforgiving breath, the song momentarily rocks and turns into a singalong dirge of the highest order. Not only does she cast an enchanting spell, Welch proves she will not go quietly in the end.

On "Breaking Down," Welch confronts a dark presence that has haunted her, preyed on her and hidden in plain sight since she was a child. Despite the inherit darkness of the lyrics, Welch's light and airy vocals are accompanied by a misleading mix of booming drum beats and poppy keyboards that makes it sound dreamy and upbeat. Channeling her inner Annie Lennox when she used to belt out tunes (instead of chirp them) and showing her kinship to country-mate Adele, Welch is sexy and soulful as hell on "Lover to Lover." And this is all topped off by a piping hot melody that oozes Motown (rather than macabre) cool.

On "No Light, No Light," Welch would do anything to make you stay, and, if you were her friend, you would do anything to make her stay away from sharp objects. On the combination female empowerment/mortal coil opus "Leave My Body," our gothic heroine passionately belts, "I don't need a husband/Don't need no wife/And I don't need the day/I don't need the night/And I don't need the birds/Let them fly away/And I don't want the crowds/They never seem to stay."

Well, I can't speak for the spouse, the sparrows or the everyday span of time but please don't leave the spectators behind. The music world so desperately needs you now, more so than ever.

Key to the Stars

* * * * Hot Stuff

* * * Good job

* * Not Bad

* Never Mind

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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Nov 10, 2011
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