Single Review: Florence + the Machine – ‘No Light, No Light’

“‘No Light, No Light’ commands every iota of attention as her infrequently-heard softer tones explode triumphantly into a full-throated siren’s call”

4 STARS

Digital Release: January 15, 2012

Physical Release: January 16, 2012

There was an uncomfortable unease that I felt after hearing the plans for Florence + the Machine’s second album, ‘Ceremonials’. She appeared to have taken a well-informed decision to pursue aloof, mystical tribal-pop and invest all her effort in a relatively unexplored and uncelebrated genre. She even changed her entire image from ‘quaint little indie-fied girl with band’ into ‘numinous, celestial goddess’. But it felt like ‘Ceremonials’ counter-productively diminished the contentedly discombobulating diversity of ‘Lungs’. She roped in Paul Epworth to produce the whole thing, and as ‘What The Water Gave Me’ boldly marked her returning presence with it’s swelling crescendo and ‘Shake It Out’ followed-up with spectacular grandiosity, no-one expected, when the album was unleashed, to hear her to try and out-do the gargantuan instrumentation and the ethereal wailing on almost every successive song.

All the ingredients of her début’s concept were there, but none of the essence of it’s conglomerated and, at times, haphazard recklessness. There, of course, were the big themes that stood as proud as the backbones of mighty stallions barely buckling under the weight of Welch and Epworth, marrying together songs of such enormousness it was inescapably imminent that, by the end of the marathon, you would come away with a million different samples of sounds swirling around your skull as detail-abolished songs segued into each other, becoming mystified and indistinguishable as Welch and Epworth’s combined forces tossed more and more ideas into the mix. 

The worst part was that it was practically impossible to simply just listen to her. ‘Ceremonials’ generally and, indeed, ‘No Light, No Light’ specifically command every iota of attention as her infrequently-heard softer tones explode triumphantly into a full-throated siren’s call, backed-up by a monolithic ensemble of drums and epic chanting choirs. If you can decipher her frenetic whoops and wails, ‘No Light, No Light’, whilst an equally barrelling graveyard stomp as almost every other gothically-inspired track on ‘Ceremonials’, sees a change in the otherwise formulaic biology. She drops her usual flighty lyricism and her standard inventory of lyrics like “tombs”, “drowning”, “blood”, and “death”, and instead swaps them for something a little more personal; not something you instantly equate with Florence Welch. Normality isn’t somewhere she feels most comfortable it seems, as once she’s let the guard down we see she’s only done so in order to howl into a block of adorning faces about an over-controlling beaux, allowing her spectral echoes to soothe her emotionally raw mind: “It’s so easy to sing it to a crowd/But it’s so hard, my love, to say it to you out loud”, she cries, absolving her inner-most imperfection via self-criticism. It’s possible that it’s here she confesses to an inability to connect to her audiences on an explicitly individual level. The gothic horror imagery illudes us; we perceive her as something intangible or even some kind of demigod incapable of feeling complex human emotions. This pathos that comes so naturally to fellow chart queen Adele covers Florence’s songs in a detached, almost theatrical mask, but thankfully, the empathy displayed here on ‘No Light, No Light’ just about keeps the whole song buoyed up from sinking into the shapeless crescendos and indeterminable depths of the rest of ‘Ceremonials’.

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