The beloved indie rock band make something mythic as they explore what it means to create
Florence Welch has always been held in reverence by her fanbase, so to have her posing as the Virgin Mary on her album art for Dance Fever feels like a logical next stop. This is no simple Messiah story though – in Florence + The Machine’s fifth studio album, Welch both becomes and denounces God, laments the gift of prophecy, makes deals with the Devil, and welcomes listeners to Heaven. Half fairytale, half religious text, Dance Fever is rich with tongue-in-cheek mythology and heavy with the burden of creation.
Welch lays out her own brand of spirituality in the album and places music, particularly live performance, at the center. ‘Free’, the album’s fourth single, rollercoasters the speaker through emotions with reckless abandon, her saving grace being that she can ‘open my arms and give it all to you’. Choral backing vocals – which become gospel in the album’s closer ‘Morning Elvis’ – and treatment that sounds as if Welch is singing in a church make much of the album feel like worship. And yet Welch’s relationship with music is complicated, just like her relationship with God. Pre-pandemic, she was considering giving it all up.
“I’ve blown apart my life for you,” she sings in penultimate track ‘The Bomb’. In ‘My Love’ she confesses that writer’s block was preventing her from making music until she was plunged into lockdown. Some fans cite Florence + The Machine’s earlier track ‘June’ as evidence that Welch predicted the pandemic – in ‘Cassandra’, she both satirizes and curses this foresight. Much of the album sees Welch imbued with a Biblical anger towards herself, her circumstances, her art, the pandemic, and even God himself.
In no part is Dance Fever raw emotion, though. Welch constructs a narrative that journeys us through different parts of psyche with great deliberation, and despite its immediacy the whole thing is so neatly tied together that it’s difficult to pick out and speak about one track without also drawing on two or three others. Welch’s vocals are spectacular, dotted with small, often eerie sections of spoken word, and the instrumentation and production are consistently imaginative. We are whisked through a mythic fever dream – only to wake with Welch on the bathroom floor in Memphis, too hungover to go visit Graceland (‘Morning Elvis’). The landscape of the album is so rich that at the end of that final track, you may find yourself appropriately groggy.
Dance Fever is out now. Find tickets to Florence + The Machine’s 2022 UK tour here.