Spinning round magic and characters until she has to land on herself...
Lucy Harbron
16:43 11th May 2022

If there’s one thing Florence Welch always provides, it’s a story. Turning each album into an event, every release seems to come along with a full cinematic world, something that's kept fans so hooked in and dedicated to the art despite long periods of silence punctuating eras. Maybe even more than the music, it’s this ability to build an atmosphere or an aura that solidified Florence’s place in pop culture as a mythic figure, something mysterious and waif-like, something magical that she leans fully into on Dance Fever. Rolling out the album, fans have been provided with breathtaking visuals, film lists, tarot and even history lessons; turning this new record into her most realised yet, even before fans heard it. And now having heard it, the world only opens up more.

Opening the album and being the first track we heard from Florence in a couple of years, ‘King’ feels so full of her signatures and style that its almost like we’ve known it all along. From the first play it was an anthem, encapsulating tricky questions around motherhood, ageing, expectations and what it means to be a woman and an artist as both separate and intertwined things. Opening up the album by laying out all her contemplations and current conflicts on one gorgeous golden plate, it stabs a sword through it all as the instrumentation flows between harsh jabs and haunting harmonies. With a raised fist in the video taking the stance of Joan of Arc or some other mythical, powerful figure, the opener lays out these heavy questions and expectations and yet somehow manages to build them into a song of defiance, confrontation and deeply feminine rage as it climaxes in a classic Florence wail: this time full of feeling and frustration and passion and fear, no longer just vocal acrobatics. 

In simple and plain English, ‘King’ is easily one of Florence’s best songs, a huge remark to make considering the quality of her discography.

But despite beginning with a scream, the album doesn't lose energy. As you move along what she's dubbed a "fairytale in 14 songs", all the feelings encapsulated in that wail weave in and out during what feels like her most multi-faceted release yet. Right away, the ballad of ‘King’ moves into the incredible modern feeling ‘Free’ where a relentless electronic beat merges with folky, mediaeval harps, bringing this very 2020's song about anxiety into the Dance Fever world by merging with not only decades but millenias of music. 

It’s ‘Free’ that seems to start the spinning that spirals all the way through this album. Inspired by dancing fever (also known as choreomania, which gives its name to one of the tracks), Florence was inspired by a 14th-century phenomenon in which mass groups of people started dancing and didn’t stop — until they died of exhaustion. It’s unknown whether it was a fit, an illness or something connected to cults, but the relentess dancing can be heard throughout the record. With hammering drum beats, spiralling echoes, heavy repetition and swelling instrumentation that never really goes anywhere, ‘Choreomania’ truly encapsulates the hysteria of its name-sake as the music swells to nothing, creating waves of movement and anxiety crashing in and out of your headphones to a dizzying effect. ‘Heaven Is Here’ physically pulls your body to move, building one of the albums most striking tracks out of nothing but feet stomping and chanting in a way that makes you feel part of the cult-y chorus.

Cutting between the tracks with breathy whispers and creepy creaking are interludes like ‘Restraint’ which present the album's story in a more blatant way, stepping into Patti Smith punk-poet territories — all of Florence’s patron saints gather here. Playing around with distortion and vocal performativity in a way we’ve never seen before, Kate Bush’s ‘Waking The Witch’ springs to mind as Flo build her own Hounds Of Love in this witchy tale. Elsewhere, mythology comes in as ‘Cassandra’ takes its tale from the prophet cursed to share truth but never be believed. And in the middle, religion takes centre stage as ‘Girls Against God’ and ‘Dream Girl Evil’ tackle theological questions through a Sofia Coppola-tinted lens, turning the day to day questions of sexuality, purpose, womanhood and frustrating into hymns as she sings “When I decided to wage holy war/It looked very much like staring at my bedroom floor”. 

Yet while the album can find you dancing round the maypole like Dani in Midsommer, it’s not all horror films and characters. Underneath it all, the album feels incredibly vulnerable with tracks like ‘The Bomb’ and ‘Back In Town’ failing to find any fiction to hide behind. In the midst of its aesthetic world, the core questions tackle some deeply tender topics. Amongst the impressive instrumentation come heart-wrenching lyrics about love, reclaiming your body and your mind, rectifying your art with the effect it has on your mental health and recovery from addiction, all of which feel personal and most definitely Florence’s story. Weaving her life with pieces of myth and fiction, the choice to open with ‘King’ feels different by the end, as the prelude track serves as a shield, like only members of the cult who will dance alongside her can stick it out and access the tenderness within. 

Starting spinning and ending with applause, Dance Fever whips you into hysteria and then relieves you from it. Bringing pieces of all the old Florence eras into one, from the rockier sounds of Lungs to the storytelling of How Big How Blue How Beautiful and the softness of High As Hope, the grandeur of the album’s aesthetic world gilds in gold 14 tracks of big feelings that threaten to burst free. Put perfectly by Florence, this is "grand self-mythology", spinning round magic and character until she has to land on herself.

Dance Fever arrives 13 May via Polydor Records.

Grab your copy of the Gigwise print magazine here.

Photo: Press