Florence + The Machine: Dance Fever (Polydor)
Verdict: Back in step
Emeli Sande: Let’s Say For Instance (Chrysalis)
Verdict: Refreshing return
The Smile : A Light For Attracting Attention (XL)
Verdict: Rock with jazzy twists
When she emerged as part of a wave of female singers in the late 2000s, Florence Welch quickly established herself as one of pop’s great drama queens.
While her peers, including Adele, Lily Allen and Kate Nash, wrote down-to-earth songs about their everyday lives, the South Londoner favoured a more theatrical approach.
On 2011’s Ceremonials, her second LP with The Machine, she sang of mermaids battling pirates.
Her music featured harps, violins and church bells.
She toned things down a little four years ago on High As Hope . . . but her melodramatic leanings are back with a vengeance on fifth album Dance Fever.
Welch packs a helluva lot into the 14 new songs here.
A natural performer denied the stage she craved in lockdown, she waxes lyrical on the joys of dancing and reconnecting with the outside world.
Florence Welch combines Glass Animals Dave Bayley’s love of electronics and dance music with her powerful vocals and a new-found fondness for folk and country
At 35, though, she also finds herself torn between the never-ending demands of the rock world and thoughts of having children — and she addresses the dilemma unflinchingly.
‘I never thought about my gender that much,’ she admits.
‘I was as good as the men and I just went out there and matched them every time.
‘Now I suddenly feel this tearing of my identity and my desires.
‘To be a performer, but also want a family, might not be as simple for me as it is for my male counterparts.’
Track of the week
Supermodel by Måneskin
One year on from their Eurovision win, Rome rock band Måneskin return with a wry comment on Stateside celebrity excess.
Driven by grunge guitar and a Max Martin production, Supermodel will be sung live for the first time at tomorrow’s final.
She began work on Dance Fever in New York with Taylor Swift’s producer, Jack Antonoff, but those sessions were halted after just one week when the pandemic hit.
After finding it hard to work remotely with Antonoff on her return to London, she contacted Dave Bayley, of Oxford indie band Glass Animals, and finished the album in the UK with him.
The upshot is a complete piece of work: an album that combines Bayley’s love of electronics and dance music with Florence’s powerful vocals and a new-found fondness for folk and country.
Some songs hark back to the adrenaline rush of her first album, Lungs.
Others are much calmer.
The opening numbers set a lively pace.
Rumbling guitars and drums accompany Welch on King, a meditation on 30-something womanhood. ‘We argue in the kitchen about whether to have children,’ she sings.
Just as the song threatens to tail off, she returns for a pulsating finale.
The folky elements come to the fore on Choreomania, a choral song inspired by a Renaissance phenomenon in which groups of people danced themselves to the point of exhaustion (‘I’m dancing to imaginary music . . . and I dance myself to death’).
As those lyrics show, she can still play the queen of the goths.
Elsewhere, she uses more heartfelt lyrics to move beyond her witchy woman image. On Back In Town, she looks soberly on her hedonistic youth.
My Love taps into the sadness of not being able to see her niece in lockdown.
As for her unexpected moves towards country, there are twangy guitars on album highlight Daffodil, and an acoustic flavour to Girls Against God.
The latter depicts Florence’s pop career as an unholy pact with the devil (‘He gave me a choice: a golden heart or a golden voice’), but she signs off in a more positive mood, on Morning Elvis, by celebrating her life on the road.
That song ends with a deserved round of piped applause.
Despite minor flaws — some short interludes disrupt the momentum — she’s dancing back to the top.
When she sang Abide With Me at the London Olympics, Emeli Sande became something of a national treasure.
Her debut album, Our Version Of Events, was the UK’s biggest LP of 2012 and the second biggest of 2013.
Emelie Sande’s celebratory soul and disco finds her singing of resilience while playing to her original strengths, musically
Its catchy mix of pop and soul sold a mighty five million copies.
But it’s been far from plain sailing for the shy singer from Aberdeenshire since then.
Sande only launched a music career after completing a medical degree, and fame sat uneasily on her shoulders.
Her two subsequent albums failed to repeat her initial success, and Let’s Say For Instance is her bid to get back on track.
Written in lockdown while she was staying with her sister in Hertfordshire, its celebratory soul and disco finds Sande singing of resilience while playing to her original strengths, musically.
Family is a twitchy electronic pop number. Look What You’ve Done harks back to her first solo single, Heaven, and features a lively turn from Brummie rapper Jaykae.
Sande, who is in a relationship with classical pianist Yoana Karemova, sings about new love on the woozy, neo-soul ballad My Pleasure, and she is joined by Karemova on the instrumental July 25th.
She can sometimes lapse into banality.
This comeback is dotted with empowerment anthems, including Yes You Can (‘don’t lose faith, you will rise again’) and Superhuman (‘don’t forget that you’re a superhuman’), and her self-help advice often tips into cliche.
But she ends on a high, entering full diva mode on World Go Round, a ballad worthy of a Bond Theme.
The latest side-project of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood sees them team up with drummer Tom Skinner in a new trio, The Smile, whose first album adds jazzy grooves to Yorke’s ghostly falsetto and Greenwood’s squally guitars and electronics.
Traces of Radiohead are never far from the surface.
The musicianship is superb, the rhythms detailed . . . and the lyrics often peevish or impenetrable.
Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood team up with drummer Tom Skinner for The Smile, whose first album adds jazzy grooves to Yorke’s ghostly falsetto and Greenwood’s squally guitars and electronics
You Will Never Work In Television Again depicts a TV bigwig as a ‘gangster troll’.
Free In The Knowledge is a ballad that could have graced The Bends or OK Computer.
But there’s warmth, too, in cameos from a clutch of the UK’s leading brass and woodwind aces, and the orchestrations of Hugh Brunt, a former chorister at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.
Florence + The Machine start a tour in Cardiff on November 16 (ticketmaster.co.uk).
Emeli Sande starts her tour in Glasgow on Monday (livenation.co.uk).
The Smile start their tour in London on May 29 (thesmiletheband.com).
The three piano sonatas that Franz Schubert wrote in his last year are among the most sublime gifts he bequeathed us.
Prize-winning Korean pianist Dong-Hyek Lim has obviously thought long and hard about how to approach the final two masterpieces, the A major, D959, and the B flat, D960 (Schubert: Piano Sonatas 20 & 21, Warner Classics 9029631946, HHHHH).
He has a terrific technique, so he can free himself to project them on the largest scale while retaining a sense of intimacy for the quieter moments.
The A major begins and ends its slow movement quite innocently, but in the middle has a series of what one can only call explosions.
If the B flat has nothing on that scale of violence, it does have a lofty, lyrical feeling that at times is almost heartbreaking.