Originally written and published by me for PopMatters.
“I’m always running from something,” sing Florence + the Machine on “Free,” the latest single from Dance Fever, their new LP. “I push it back, but it keeps on coming.” The song’s title reflects breaking free from boundaries and oppression, which ends up being the record’s central theme. In lockdown, vocalist Florence Welch drew most of the record’s inspiration from the phenomenon of choreomania, in which Europeans used to literally dance themselves to death. As a result, she says that much of Dance Fever’s influences were drawn from the likes of ‘70s glam rock, naming Iggy Pop as the biggest musical inspiration.
The album nonetheless sounds like a collection only Welch could create, describing it as containing “folkloric elements of a moral panic from the Middle Ages.” Paradoxically, Welch also described her latest record as “Lungs with more self-knowledge.” Where the group’s previous album High as Hope was simultaneously introspective and forgettable, Dance Fever retains Welch’s propensity for self-analysis while also airing her grievances with society at large, specifically vis-à-vis women and smashing the patriarchy. “If they ever let me out, I’m gonna really let it out,” she proclaims. “I listen to music from 2006 and feel kind of sick / But, oh God, you’re gonna get it / You’ll be sorry that you messed with this.”
All of Welch’s work is highly conceptual and Dance Fever is no exception. Using imagery of witchcraft and extrasensory perception, the singer exorcises demons in a way that seldom other female musicians are able to continuously do across multiple albums. But here, she is perhaps the closest she’ll ever get to the pop and rock icons who influenced the work, as Welch’s stage presence is one that can only be compared to herself alone. “I’m free when I’m dancing,” she sings, suggesting that perhaps a life ended by dancing it out is better than a life standing still.
Making copious use of collaborations with Jack Antonoff, the album stands out from its predecessors since it was produced during one of humanity’s most unprecedented periods. “I often think about everyone meandering back into the world now with so much unprocessed PTSD,” Welch told The Guardian. Since she often describes herself as an exceptionally introverted and anxious person, it makes sense that Welch would channel so much of that into a record aptly titled Dance Fever, created during a time when the only spaces to dance freely were in your living room. “I don’t really want to exist in a world where I can’t do the thing I feel like I was put on this Earth to do,” she said. “The thing that gives me meaning, that makes the jumble in my head — which is a sort of screaming nightmare a lot of the time — make sense.”
In this vein, Dance Fever sounds like Welch’s most conceptual album yet, but in a fashion that allows the most catharsis her work has conjured since “Shake It Out.” Although much more theatrical than the honest but somehow boring High as Hope, this record asks its listener to sit a bit with the noise in our heads that might usually make us so uncomfortable. “I’ve spent my life trying to run away from these big feelings,” she told Vogue, with big feelings representing anything from growing older, to motherhood, to the grand uncertainty of life at large. If our time away from the world taught us anything, it’s that we have to feel it to move past it. And with Welch’s signature brand of theatricality, the group wants us to do just that.
Jeffrey’s favorites from Dance Fever: “Free,” “Choreomania,” “Girls Against God,” and “Cassandra”