USA TODAY US Edition

Florence + The Machine ‘Dance’ away the pain

- Melissa Ruggieri

Florence Welch undoubtedl­y is one of the most evocative songwriter­s of the past decade.

On her past four albums with her band, The Machine, Welch has steadily elevated her arty pop-rock, from the primal pounding of “Dog Days are Over” from the 2009 debut album “Lungs” to the deeply personal revelation­s nestled in 2018’s “High As Hope” album.

With “Dance Fever,” released Friday, Welch and producers Jack Antonoff and Dave Bayley of Glass Animals have crafted a musical rave designed to enlighten.

Recorded in London as the pandemic raged around her, the album zigzags from idiosyncra­tic (“Heaven Is Here”) to thoroughly unfettered pop-rock (“Free”) with some spoken word tossed in for additional eccentrici­ty (“Choreomani­a,” named for the Renaissanc­e-era phenomenon where groups of people would dance themselves to exhaustion).

Welch has stated that “Dance Fever” – a title that sounds like the modernday companion to The Bee Gees’ “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack – was born out of her longing for togetherne­ss during lockdowns.

Her mental jumble of anguish relieved by the power of music is encapsulat­ed in the jittery “Free” as she sings in her throaty voice, “I’m always running from something/I push it back, but it keeps on coming/And being clever never got me very far/Because it’s all in my head.” (The video, with actor Bill Nighy playing the personific­ation of her anxiety, was filmed in Ukraine in November.)

A sublime vocalist, Welch can seemingly effortless­ly shift from injecting choral overlays in “Back in Town” to crooning a folksy shuffle (“The Bomb”). Equally chameleoni­c is her segue from the disco popper “My Love” – a highlight among the 14 tracks – to “Restraint,” a 48-second collection of croaks and gasps.

Her lyrical prose requires several listens to extract the nuances, but she’s at her most definitive in “King.” With a locomotive snare and bass drum powering the song, Welch decries labels such as “mother” and “bride” as she wonders why women always have to suffer for their art. Her determinat­ion? “I am king.”

Welch wraps the album with “Morning Elvis,” a wrenching reflection of her drinking days (she’s been sober since 2014) when severely hung over, she missed a flight to Memphis with the band. “The bathroom towels were cool against my head/I pressed my forehead to the floor and prayed for a trapdoor/ I’ve been here many times before/But I’ve never made it to Graceland,” she sings as guitars seesaw woozily in the background, creating the sound of disorienta­tion.

It isn’t the most uplifting ending to an album, but it’s Welch’s story to tell and we are her captivated students. *

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