She’s already sung Aretha Franklin at the Grammys and provided the luscious soundtrack to Julia Roberts’ onscreen gelato binges in Eat Pray Love, so what does Florence Welch do next? She crafts Ceremonials, a confident, unflinching tour de force. If her acclaimed 2009 debut, Lungs, was a scrappy shrine to survival and empowerment, its follow-up is a baroque cathedral, bedecked with ornate tapestries made of ghostly choirs, pagan-rhythmic splendor, and a whole lot of harp. And though that sounds like a mess of New Age goop, Ceremonials genuinely rocks: Jagged violins erupt into a chugging prog shuffle on ”Breaking Down,” while ”Lover to Lover” makes funky use of a Springsteen-size arena-gospel backbeat.
If you’ve got a godly house, you might as well fill it with some religion. Welch’s soul is constantly in peril here, forcing her to dance away from devils (”Shake It Out”) and fight snakes in her bed (”No Light, No Light”), ultimately discovering a higher plain on the luminous ”All This and Heaven Too” and escaping her earthly form on the spry album closer, ”Leave My Body.” Even confirmed atheists will stand in awe. A