Florence + the Machine – Dance Fever
Baroque Pop | Indie Pop
I’m a big believer than an album needs to have a purpose. Not necessarily a grand purpose, there needn’t be a complex story being told in multiple parts or a unifying moral that links everything together, but there needs to be some sense that this particular collection of songs belongs together. When done right every album should feel like a distinct era, a separate chapter in an artist’s story.
For all its faults, Dance Fever has a very clear sense of identity. This is unmistakably Florence + the Machine’s “lockdown album”. It feels set apart from the rest of the discography, especially for an artist so steeped in a cobblestone mythology of her own making. Frenetic twirling energy, pounding drum beats and metaphor rich lyricism drawing from nature and folklore giving the feel of some pagan ritual. Bright melodies, soaring angelic vocals and grand opulent arrangements that seem more at home reverberating from cathedral ceilings. These are all the hallmarks we’ve come to expect – a splendour akin to a religious experience – and these are the things so noticeably absent on this new release, in favour of a more intimate approach.
Never before has Florence Welch felt so… mortal. We get so caught up in seeing Florence as some visitor from the Feywild or a Pre-Raphaelite painting brought to life, we lose sight of the person behind it all. Much of the inspiration of Dance Fever is rooted in the mundane life under house arrest while in lockdown. Unable to dash across stages spinning like a Catherine Wheel, or hear vast crowds sing back to her, instead stripped of her powers and left alone with her thoughts. All the pageantry didn’t just hide the more human Florence from the world, it was also her main avenue to hide from her own doubts and fears.
The anxious energy of standout single ‘Free’ directly addresses the escape she finds in music (“I hear the music, I feel the beat, And for a moment, when I’m dancing, I am free“). While opening track ‘King’ weighs up all the aspects of a normal life sacrificed in the pursuit of her art, and how the two goals feel at odds with each other (“I need my golden crown of sorrow, my bloody sword to swing, My empty halls to echo with grand self-mythology, I am no mother, I am no bride, I am king“). When so much of her songwriting offers a fanciful fairytale escape, the way the bleak reality of the pandemic looms large in ‘Daffodil’ feels like an especially grounded offering. With lines like “Worn out and tired and my heart near retired, And the world bent double from weeping” and “A generation soaked in grief, We’re drying out and hanging on by the skin of our teeth” she manages to capture the covid zeitgeist remarkably well.
But while this record may be a clearly defined chapter, it’s sadly one that I’m happy to close the book on. Musically it feels like a lockdown album in the worst sense. It’s not a joyous celebration of freedom, of the light at the end of the tunnel finally arriving, nor does it revel in all the small things we take for granted that kept us going. It feels restrained and restricted, staring at the same four walls. ‘Choreomania’, named after the eponymous dance fever that compels people to twirl and frolic until their last breath, feels rather stilted given its subject matter. Rather than a raucous party anthem it’s just the same electronic beat increasing in urgency. Followed up by the austere slog of ‘Back In Town’ and ‘Girls Against God’ the album quickly begins to lose momentum, while tracks like ‘Prayer Factory’ and ‘Restraint’ don’t even stretch their ideas out beyond the two minute mark and instead we’re left with incomplete little interludes.
There are a few fleeting flashes of brilliance, like the fusion of wild west instrumentation and Greek myth allegories on album highlight ‘Cassandra’, but they aren’t enough to get the record off the ground. There isn’t anything here I’d call outright bad by any measure, but Dance Fever feels so drained of colour and energy compared to previous releases that it struggles to earn your attention. It’s a record that, for the majority of its runtime, lacks the grand sweeping arrangements and triumphant singalong hooks we’ve come to expect, and musically offers new to fill the void left by their absence.