I don’t see many people dancing to it, but “Dance Fever” is Florence at her best.
After a four-year break, Florence and the Machine recently released their fifth studio album, “Dance Fever.” It is an interesting name for an album that does not have many truly danceable songs, but it builds off of the sadness and hunt for joy in little things that the last album, “High as Hope,” featured in a beautiful way.
The album seems to be divided into distinct sections with certain themes running throughout. The first section ends with the song “Choreomania,” and subsequently ends the dancing theme of the album. It builds the good vs evil narrative that weaves throughout the sections and ties it all together. This dancing section features bright, fast-paced instruments that mask the anxiety-ridden lyrics.
The second section changes the tone of the album completely, with slower songs like “Back in Town” that slowly build into the finale of “Dream Girl Evil.” Florence relies heavily on her vocals to replace instruments, which is a good game plan if you can sing like her. The good vs. evil narrative plays out through frequent reference to God and the devil, with Florence seeming to lean towards the latter in a world that is full of so much suffering.
The third section sees the use of Florence haunting each song with quivering background vocals. The songs continue the use of God and the devil to represent good and evil, but the tide begins to turn as there are hints of optimism culminating in “Daffodil.”
The final section seems like an awkward fit with the rest of the album. The songs are enjoyable, but they lose some of the magic that the middle of the album possesses.
One of the poppier songs on the album, “Free” is touching on Florence’s anxiety and the guilt that comes with it. The upbeat tune contrasts with the chorus of “…it picks me up, puts me down a hundred times a day.” Anxiety can be crippling and with lyrics like “to exist in the face of suffering and death and somehow still keep singing?”, she is revealing how frivolous it seems to make art when there are people dying senselessly. The music video was filmed in Kyiv shortly before Russia’s invasion, making the argument even stronger. Ultimately, everyone has to find a way to get past that guilt and Florence does that through dancing. It’s a heavy subject but the song never really feels that way when you’re listening because it’s easy to get caught up in the drum line and the punchy guitar.
A reference to an obscure, but real, plague in 1518 where people uncontrollably danced until they collapsed is music to this history major’s ears. However, this track is highlighted by peaks and valleys. The chorus is catchy and enjoyable, but I can’t help but giggle when I hear the verse “like if Jesus came down in a beautiful dress, and all the evangelicals were like oh yeah, oh yes.” It could be such a powerful thing to imagine if Jesus came back as a woman, but then the lyrics end the thought with the equivalent of sad trumpets.
Girls Against God:
A simple guitar line and lyrics about being in quarantine, what is this, a Bo Burnham special? Nope, it’s better. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried in the car while listening to this song. This song taps into feelings of a deep depression and isolation, or what I like to call my early 20’s (too much?). The chorus lines of “and it’s good to be alive crying into cereal at midnight,” and “when I decided to wage holy war it looked very much like staring at my bedroom floor” captures a low point and the perseverance it takes sometimes to simply exist. A subtle harp and more of Florence’s voice in the background complete this near perfect song.
Dream Girl Evil:
This is officially a petition to have Stevie Nicks sing “Dream Girl Evil” with Florence. Hearing this song makes me think of “Gold Dust Woman” by Fleetwood Mac, which is a compliment of the highest order. “Dream Girl Evil” eviscerates the expectations that society puts on women with a mocking tone on lines like “did mommy make you sad.” Florence uses the theme of good vs. evil to highlight how society wants women to just be like their mother was, hinting at an Oedipus complex, and firmly rejecting the role.
A beat that seems fit for the big screen, Florence alternates between high and low notes to add to the complexity of the song. Where “High as Hope” showed Florence finding joy after getting sober, “Daffodil” is about how COVID put a stop to that. Simple activities were no longer accessible and the constant change from lockdown to maybe, possibly opening up again, followed by more lockdown, weighs on the song through references of a possible spring. The ending is the loudest part of the album and feels like a catharsis of pent-up frustration.
“Dance Fever” is just another example of Florence and the Machine’s continued excellence. Florence Welch has a voice that would allow her to coast with generic songs, but she chose to dive deep into complex emotions and situations to make truly incredible music. Let’s just hope the next album doesn’t take another four years to make.
Star Rating: 4.5\5