Review Summary: Dance the pain awayHigh as Hope
displayed Florence Welch at her most vulnerable and weary, a fact that becomes ever more fascinating when you look back at the rest of her career. Even in her poppiest moments, the singer-songwriter has always had a penchant for surrounding herself with thick billows of backing choirs and layered instrumentals; while High as Hope
still had these moments from time to time, scaling back the grandiosity was an important move for Welch and her band as a whole. The group’s trademark theatricality was given a healthy dose of intimacy and relatability, as Welch opted to grapple with many of her personal demons. After all, this wasn’t exactly the same young woman who ran wildly across the stage at Glastonbury 2009; she’d matured, and a more personal album reflected where her journey was taking her.
Thankfully, Dance Fever
acts as a yang to its predecessor’s yin: if High as Hope
was a record of grieving and heartache, this is a record of celebration and healing. It is intended as an anthemic affair, specifically meant to be enjoyed in a club or festival setting; in fact, the “dance fever” of the album title is in reference to an old European phenomenon known as choreomania, which would involve massive groups of people dancing erratically until they collapsed from injury or exhaustion. Opener “King” immediately sets the tone, the thumping rhythm acting as a sort of perpetual heartbeat as Welch sings of the struggles between having a career and a meaningful family life. Interesting premise for sure, but - as usual - Welch just delivers the message with such gusto that you know she’s putting her all into the song. And while the lyrics of the track paint a picture of conflict, you’d never guess that from the music itself, which is continually exuberant and peppy. That musical base is a near-constant throughout the record; in fact, the second tune “Free” expands upon the framework even more by summarizing the record’s thesis of dancing and high energy - think a poppy, modernized version of “Over My Head” by King’s X.
As for the music itself, the group manage to pull out some unexpected influences this time around. Within all the folkloric imagery and baroque pop window-dressing, you’ll find them dabbling in newfound industrial and electronic influences. They’re subtle - obviously the indie pop material is still the star of the show - but once in a while you’ll come across something like the chasmic synth base of “Back in Town” or the hypnotic, pulsating rhythms of “Choreomania”. You’d think that this generational and stylistic clash would turn the record into a mess, but everything is surprisingly well-integrated. How cool is it that a phenomenon originating in 14th-century Europe is given a modern update like this? The vibes here are similar to the famous “Mummers’ Dance” single by Loreena McKennitt, another modern reimagining of an antiquated cultural trend or tradition. However, much like McKennitt, Welch and company know when to slow things down and offer more reflective material; “Prayer Factory”, for instance, is a haunting little interlude on which Welch sings of childhood grief and how she can’t escape her past. Meanwhile, “Heaven is Here” takes her ornate vocal harmonies and pits them against bare, tribal drums; the contrast is simple, but effective.
That’s the thing about Dance Fever
: it’s a more direct affair than High as Hope
, but that’s never to its detriment. If anything, this direction was probably the most logical choice after such a personal and intimate affair. If I had to pinpoint Dance Fever
stylistically when compared to the rest of Florence and the Machine’s discography, I’d say this: imagine the peppy indie pop of Lungs
with a touch of Ceremonials
’ over-the-top drama, combined with some of the residual sadness and reflectiveness found on High as Hope
. Finally, add a dash of industrial music. That’s not to say Dance Fever
is merely a culmination of everything the band have given us so far, as it still carves out its own unique place in their collection. What really makes it stand out is the way it offers a continual sense of hope and vigor in the face of defeat and darkness. After all, what else would you expect from a Florence and the Machine album that was recorded during the COVID pandemic? Maybe we do
need to dance it all out.