Sunday, May 15, 2022

Review: Dance Fever • Florence + the Machine

When we heard from English rock band Florence + the Machine last, it seemed that centerpiece singer-songwriter Florence Welch had – at least temporarily – unfurled her hands from their years-long grip on disaster. On High as Hope, a tidy little 10-track record, she generally focused on healing over hurting. Four years later, the same could be said for Welch, despite having emerged from a global pandemic adorned in medieval gowns with visions of dancing mania – a widespread Renaissance era mental disorder that would force its prey to dance to their deaths – on the band’s fifth studio record, Dance Fever.

It feels impossible for a Florence + the Machine record rooted in medieval hysteria not to exist already – it’s so squarely on brand for Florence Welch that the record could risk becoming a satire of the band if it weren’t so damn good. Produced with Jack Antonoff and Glass Animals’ Dave Bayley, Dance Fever embraces each of Florence’s strengths: “Dream Girl Evil” is a stunning Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac revival, “My Love” is the closest brush to a dance club that the band has mustered since 2011’s “Spectrum,” and “Daffodil” lands Welch squarely into a high-drama action movie score as it pounds its way into a frenzy. It’s a wildly dynamic, sometimes restless record that burrows deep into places Welch has never gone before – though she probably should have.

Welch continues to shift masterfully between reality and mythology – sometimes making an example of the mundane, other times commanding an audience like a spiritual leader. “We argue in the kitchen about whether to have children, about the world ending and the scale of my ambition,” she sings on “King,” a song that begins with a simple argument and ends in a desperate howl for emotional equality. Similarly, she spins a drunken trip to Tennessee into a baptism: “But if I make it to the stage, I’ll show you what it means to be spared,” she declares as she ends the song in an arrangement of harmonies worthy of a gospel chorus. Whether she feels undercut or overpowered – both of which are sentiments on this record, dependent on scenario – she floods the ordinary with intense color. 

Despite its name, Dance Fever isn’t so much focused on a breakneck pace, massive hysteria, or even dancing for that matter. (Though, of course, “Choreomania” fits those three descriptors quite nicely and delivers the glorious rebuttal, “You said that rock and roll is dead, but is that just because it has not been resurrected in your image?”) Rather, it continues what Florence Welch does best: Like the records before it, Dance Fever finds power within the struggles of everyday life. It’s easily the band’s least focused record in regard to honing its sonic mission – which certainly makes it their least predictable, as well. These songs melt into the cracks left between the band’s previous work and cement their discography as a monument dedicated to an extraordinary career forever in motion – with no sign of an exhausted collapse in sight.

Dance Fever is available now under Republic Records.

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