By Melanie Broussalian
Their last album, High as Hope, was a more demure, subdued, and airy work—a noted departure from previous stadium-shaking tracks that listeners and audiences grew to love. Welch has returned to her “roots,” so to speak, with this larger-than-life self-reflection on the public and private personas she finds herself caught between. In contrast to the delicate High as Hope, Dance Fever’s opener, “King,” is more a primal scream in which Welch finds herself torn between the call of domesticity and motherhood—and the wild, unpredictable and yet constantly alluring life that music offers her.
Jack Antonoff, producer to Lorde, Taylor Swift, St. Vincent and just about everyone else in pop music, makes his mark (for better or worse, depending on your opinion of his work) primarily on the first half of the album, the recording of which was halted a week in due to—what else?—the pandemic. His signature appears most obviously on the second track, “Free,” an upbeat and catchy song that Welch dedicates to her neuroses. The accompanying music video co-starring Bill Nighy in the role of her anxiety is a great watch for any interested listeners. Over 14 tracks, admittedly not every song is a winner, but each has its moments of profundity that knock the listener over sideways. For instance, “Choreomania” is not sonically the strongest track on the album, but the lyrics “You said that rock and roll is dead/But is that just because it has not been/Resurrected in your image?”hit like a ton of bricks, especially to those who have had music specifically of the rock and indie variety mansplained to us (more than once).
Lyrically, Dance Fever differs from Welch’s previous work in that it doesn’t rely as heavily on metaphors of angels, demons, mythological figures, and the paranormal. Welch is facing her emotions head-on and invites you to join in. References of crying into cereal at midnight and listening to music from 2006 in album standout “Girls Against God”—with Maggie Rogers assisting on background vocals—are wildly relatable, set against a slow-building acoustic guitar and bass drum line. “Dream Girl Evil” is a personal favorite, perfectly meshing this new lyrical approach with a ’70s, Fleetwood Mac sound that harkens to the soaring track, “Mother” on Florence + the Machine’s third album, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful.
In her 10 years, Welch has never had the common problem artists face in finding her own voice—she burst into the world fully formed from the very beginning, just refining her craft year to year. She’s more confident than ever in Dance Fever, actively rejecting any notions that she’s the waif-like, ethereal goddess that fans view her as. She dials in what she refers to as her “demon voice,” a low, guttural growl used to make sure her point is well received: she’s no angel and she doesn’t want you to think she is. “Daffodil” is the most obvious display of this notion, delivering an angsty sacrificial track that could equally appear on the band’s second album Ceremonials and on a horror movie soundtrack.
If you’re looking for pure dance tracks, the lead radio single, “My Love,” is as close as you’ll get. Reminiscent of Welch’s monster hit with Calvin Harris, “Sweet Nothing,” tragic and heartbreaking lyrics are masterfully crafted against an uplifting pop beat. If there’s anything we consistently love about Florence + the Machine, it’s their ability to create songs perfect for crying in the middle of the dance floor. That being said, the album title, Dance Fever, is a little bit of a misnomer if you’re expecting more tracks along this line. But if you take away the expectation, the album soars in ways that lifelong fans like me have waited years to relish in once again. Based on this body of work, Welch is clearly more self-assured than ever, which can only mean great things for the band’s upcoming tour. If you have the chance, you must absolutely see Florence + the Machine live and let yourself be carried away by the experience. You can thank me later.