Just before the pandemic, Florence Welch read about choreomania, the medieval European “dance plague,” in which hordes of people would sway and tremble until they reached exhaustion, injury, or death. Welch became obsessed with the concept. In her mid-thirties, nearly 15 years into a career that began when she drunkenly sang to her future manager in a club bathroom, she wanted to hone her relationship with performance. When she first started releasing records, her stadium-shattering voice and songs that rose to catharsis lifted her to the charts alongside Adele and Bruno Mars. Four albums in, but Florence and the Machine is an institution, and Florence Welch, the person, seemed shocked at how much she relied on it. She conceived her fifth album, Dance Feverlike a “‘be careful what you wish for’ fable,” she told the New York Times† as she read more about dancing spreading like a disease, she thought about what it would be like to stop performing altogether. And then, a week after she started making the songs that would become Dance Fever next to Jack Antonoff, the lockdown struck.
From those eerie origins, the new album arrives as a sweeping, grand statement, no less grand than Welch’s previous releases, but more internally and lyrically cohesive. The songs are about devils and angels and about life and death, but Dance Fever is more fascinating than a self-interrogation – these are Welch’s most personal lyrics, and one of her most poignant. “Every song I wrote became an escape cord tied around my neck to pull me to heaven,” she rasps at the end of “Heaven Is Here,” and that disgust at her own compulsion echoes throughout the album. on Dance FeverWelch remains locked inside, sobbing into bowls of cereal at midnight, trying to console herself with the crumbs of her own image. She built her public personality by beaming the biggest, most intense emotions to a crowd; left alone, she turns that intensity inward.
Contrary to another Antonoff-produced pandemic muse, Lorde’s Solar energyWelch struggles with the wisdom she wants to convey; we hear her struggle with the knowledge she’s gained, not just to deliver it. She sees herself as a projection, not a person, and she is terrified of her impulse to mythologize herself. In the spoken word that opens ‘Choreomania’, she outlines the contours of an anxiety attack: ‘I am startled in the middle of the street with the full conviction of someone who has never experienced anything really bad,’ she says in a clear monotone. The pandemic is a constant presence: she sings about her friends getting sick, about the joy and futility of the everyday. The stakes are high, but all too often she tries to convey the album’s scary movie sensibilities by distorting her voice into a howl or scratch. The theater distracts from the more satisfying drama, as the image of an author equating work with value clashes with Welch’s attempts at intimacy.