There’s a point just past the halfway mark on “Shake It Out,” the rousing first single from Florence + the Machine's second studio release, when the swelling guitars, organs, and strings, staccato percussion, and Florence Welch's air-raid siren of a voice lock up in a herculean battle over which one is going to launch itself into the stratosphere first. It’s a contest that plays out at least once on each of Ceremonials' immaculately produced 12 tracks. Such carefully calculated moments of rhapsody would dissolve into redundant treacle in less capable hands, but Welch does emotional bombast better than any of her contemporaries, and when she wails into the black abyss above, the listener can’t help but return the call. Bigger and bolder than 2009’s excellent Lungs, Ceremonials rolls in like fog over the Thames, doling out a heavy-handed mix of Brit-pop-infused neo-soul anthems and lush, movie trailer-ready ballads that fuse the bluesy, electro-despair of Adele with the ornate, gothic melodrama of Kate Bush and Floodland-era Sisters of Mercy. Producer Paul Epworth (Bloc Party, Friendly Fires) knows that the fiercest weapon in his arsenal is Florence herself, and he stacks her vocals accordingly, creating a fevered, pagan gospel choir on “What the Water Gave Me” and “Leave My Body,” a ghostly, Phil Spector-ish chorale on the surprisingly Beatlesque “Breaking Down,” and a defiant, uplifting horde of merry pranksters on the spirited “Heartlines,” resulting in that rare sophomore outing that not only manages to avoid the slump, but bests its predecessor in the process.
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger