In the year 1518, nearly 400 women took to the streets of Strausberg, twirling and dancing ceaselessly for an entire month until they eventually perished. Today, this unusual and tragic event is known as the Dancing Plague of 1518 and it is the spark that set off the fierce and freeing new record, Dance Fever by Florence + the Machine.
Frontwoman Florence Welch is no newcomer to the music scene. The now 35-year-old English singer, songwriter, and dancer began her career with explosive hit, "Dog Days Are Over" at the young and sparkling age of 22. Over a decade later, she has added to her pile of genius, giving fans a record rich with reminiscing and modern-day dread. This introspective 14-track album looks back on Welch's destructive past and disorienting pandemic-ridden present while maintaining the whimsical and charming nature found in every record she has to date.
The first track and debut single, "King" opens with a steady beat, instantly bringing forth profound lyrics such as, "But you need your rotten heart / Your dazzling pain like diamond rings / You need to go to war to find material to sing." Welch details the pain that can accompany the artistic process and how sometimes, in order to succeed, one must force this pain upon oneself. Welch goes on to confess her aversion to domesticity, the message at the very core of the song, as she professes, "I am no mother, I am no bride, I am king." The bar is instantly set, placing the crown on her head as we bow and wait for the rest of her tragic and enchanting tales.
"Free," the second track and third single off the record captures the daily trials of mental illness and how one may, even if only for a moment, may release themself from the chains. It's honest and tender with an upbeat and almost optimistic atmosphere, as dancing is seen as a small cure for the pain. In line with the rest of the album, "Free" earnestly and delicately details the dizzying romance with the mood swings of youth.
"Choreomania" reflects, perhaps the most clearly, the very meaning of the record and where the inspiration is drawn from, tied together with the anxious feeling of living in a modern world that's filled with impossible dilemmas and uncertain futures. It begins with Welch's soft voice speaking to us tenderly with keen honesty. Sharp and impactful breathwork permeates the entirety of the song with her audible gasps for air and for life. Filled with the feeling of impending devastation, Welch lets her anxiety flow and finds an outlet as she repeats, "Something's coming, so out of breath / I just kept I spinning and I danced myself to death." To tie in such a peculiar and haunting moment in history with contemporary anxiety and her inherent urge to perform is to show the very genius of Florence Welch.
"Back in Town" is filled with echoes upon echoes of luscious harmonies, and paired with the lyrics, would sound mournful if not for the strong conviction and self-certainty evident in Welch's voice. It feels similar in theme to "The Bomb," a charming yet somber track reminiscing upon Welch's youth and her constant craving for destruction. Her soft and subdued tone shows the wisdom she has gained throughout her career, found through sometimes tumultuous self-reflection.
The harmonically-rich "Prayer Factory," is an entity in itself, whose faded layers paired with the slow guitar make for a haunting feeling. It omits the darkness that comes and goes throughout this record, always remaining a lingering figure in the background–harrowing and off-putting but not enough to be frightened into submission.
Welch challenges the divine more than a few times on this record and she does so fearlessly. "Girls Against God" is a provocative title on its own, somewhat mocking a higher power and even challenging it, underlined with subtle humor. It stands on its own, with only a simple acoustic guitar to lean on, although the beat builds with intensity as Welch gains her power and force against God. Keeping the holy in mind, "Heaven is Here" calls upon the angels in the sky and the demons below, making all creatures aware of the twisted song and dance occurring right here on Earth. The song is made for dance, instantly conjuring the image in my mind of a wild and unruly circle of feminine witchy figures, Welch included, spinning around and stomping their feet with anger, vulgarity, and passion. There's an odd sense of horror to it, as is to the whole record, that emphasizes her sound and places her upon a gilded throne in her lonesome castle.
"Dream Girl Evil" and "Daffodil" feel the most like classic Florence + the Machine with a heavy beat pulsing in the heart of both tracks, feeling ritualistic in nature. Referring back to Sigmund Freud and Joan Didion and using their concepts and words as weapons, Welch repurposes the past perfect and packs an even harder punch because of it. "Daffodil" was written at the height of the pandemic, capturing a confused and dazed generation helplessly reaching for some sense of beauty–the kind only found in nature and within the self.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit the world hard in more ways than one. To be pulled from the stage and put in rooms of silence, Welch was forced to look in the mirror and reflect. Her primary outlet of love, longing, grief, misery, excitement, and devotion was taken from her as life as we knew it jolted to a sobering halt. "My Love" paints a true picture of life in a pandemic and just how aimless and desolate it can feel. With lyrics such as "My arms emptied, the skies emptied / The billboards emptied / So, tell me where to put my love," Welch embodies the hollow shell that the world seemed to become when lockdown began. "My Love" details the bubbling over of countless emotions that had lost their designated place to be released into the universe, which, for Florence, was once the stage.
Nearing the end of the record, we find the brief interlude, "Restraint," which, as her low and croaky voice continues to go deeper, evokes some sort of giddy uneasiness, like you're about to watch a horror film alone in the dark. Welch steadily and ominously reminds listeners that after all these years, she has, in fact, not learned restraint, given her willingness to let nearly all her darkest feelings go, permitting them to fly free into the world and puncture the atmosphere, likely to the dismay of others.
A poignant and emotive closing to the album, "Morning Elvis" looks back on a past reliant on the vices belonging to the crumbling rock star. The track builds up to the most breathtaking and grandiose level, thundering its way through to the very end of Dance Fever in the intoxicating and hypnotic way that Florence has done and will always do so well.
Florence + the Machine has returned to her roots of maximalism and gritty extravagance, calling back to the past and clawing away at the present in the most unique and untamed fashion possible for a celestial figure such as she. Dance Fever is an instant classic and a veracious testament to our shambolic and violent modernity.