Florence Welch, with her flowing red hair, bare feet and chiffon shrouds, has always seemed to belong to a mythical world. Myths are supposed to teach us about life: it is fortunate, then, that for all their references to golden crowns and the moon, Welch’s thunderous, euphoric songs are firmly grounded in reality. On Dance Fever, the new album from Florence and the Machine, she uses this juxtaposition more than ever, creating something that feels timeless and ethereal, but also acutely present-tense.
“King”, the opener and lead single, sets the tone: it unfolds over a pounding drum beat like a battle march. In the bridge, Welch sings of “a bloody sword to swing”, as textures accumulate and build to an explosive final chorus that feels both assertive and subversive: “I am no mother, I am no bride, I am king”. Alongside this symbolism are more literal personal reflections. The opening lyric — “We argue in the kitchen about whether to have children” — is the kind of highly private detail that increasingly features in Welch’s work.
As its title would suggest, Dance Fever finds solace in the primal ritual of making and moving to music, though not without a note of darkness. On the acoustic, propulsive “Free”, she wonders “if I should be medicated”, so great is her compulsion to “still keep singing… in the face of suffering and death”. In the gently bubbling, up-tempo “Choreomania” – a historical phenomenon in which people danced wildly to the point of exhaustion, which inspired the album’s title – Welch sings of breaking down in public, “dancing to imaginary music” as the song builds and builds. On “Heaven is Here” a rhythmic, earthy vocal harmony is interspersed with twittering birds. “Every song I wrote became an escape rope / Tied around my neck to pull me up to heaven”, Welch sings.
If her music brings comfort and joy to Welch, then the same can be said for her listeners. This album is an immersive, cathartic exploration of joy and rage. Though the singles — “King”, “Free”, “Heaven is Here” and the house-inspired “My Love” — sparkle, “Choreomania” stands out as an exhilarating crowd-pleaser, along with “Cassandra”, which starts as a soft folk song with wind chimes and traces of organ and builds to a huge, cascading vocal riff that could fill not just stadiums, but skies.
Florence and the Machine is now in its second decade and Welch is well accustomed to the conformist and often male-dominated music industry. Dance Fever is not a rebellion, exactly — Welch has never shied away from defiance — but it does feel radical, a unique, deep-rooted sound in the fickle pop landscape. Welch’s work is imbued with a powerful, subversive femininity, undercut by sharp lyrics — “bloody swords”, perhaps — and uneasy bass lines, the near-constant stomping drums sweeping us up in our own choreomania. The record is both private and public, real and magical, a charm and a curse. In one of Dance Fever’s rare languorous moments, Welch puts it perfectly: “I came for the pleasure but I stayed for the pain”.