by Jacob Wingate-Bishop
All things come in cycles, and at last the disco fever of the 1980s is back in full swing. What The Weeknd inadvertently triggered with ‘Blinding Lights’ and Dua Lipa paid homage to in Future Nostalgia is here to stay. The darkwave, dancefloor synth-pop of ABBA is creeping back into the charts, with more than one success going back to funky, Nile Rogers riffs and flare-backed beats.
Ava Max’s debut, 2020’s Heaven & Hell, had its fair share of deliciously ‘’80s moments’, especially it’s latter half, which gave us the brooding ‘Belladonna’ and penitentiary-epic in ‘Sweet but Psycho’. Well, Max is back for her second, full-length follow-up, Diamonds & Dancefloors, and it’s all the more enticing.
The album opens with ‘Million Dollar Baby’ – its lead single – and it’s a perfect taste of what makes Ava Max that modern-day Madonna she is. There’s spitting in the face of opposition, righteous anger, effortless grace, all wrapped up in discotheque-friendly licks.
‘Sleepwalker’, meanwhile, is like the best of every synthwave track mashed together; echoing images of highways at night, lit by neon storefronts. There’s a pulsing rhythm to this one, and more than a touch of Cascada. ‘Maybe You’re the Problem’, which was our first glimpse into what would become Diamonds & Dancefloors, is a dark-mode dancefloor number, and among the best on the album. Max is vicious in her dismissal of all those who have slighted her; her Joan of Arc retaliation has never sounded quite so catchy.
‘Ghost’ is a classic clubfloor anthem, with ‘Hold Up (Wait A Minute)’ like a short of adrenaline to the nervous system, paying homage to the dance scene of the late ‘90s. ‘Weapons’ sees some of Max’s less inspired lyrics, but it’s tough to disagree with the feelgood nature of it. It’s bound to make the cut of any party playlist.
The title track is a worthy one, as Max embraces the need for opulence and shuns the tainted kind of love. ‘In the Dark’, whilst unforgettable by D&D’s standards, is an example of palatable filler at least. ‘Turn Off the Lights’ could quite easily have been a single, embodying a bonus track from Future Nostalgia.
Much like the ABBA classic of the same name, ‘One of Us’ deals with a relationship on the rocks. It fails to reach the near-Himalayan heights of the rest of Dancefloors, but its chorus remains a pounding, dancefloor classic – it’s ‘Summer Night City’ meets previous Max hit, ‘Sweet but Psycho’.
‘Get Outta My Heart’ is a truly hypnotic track, arguably the most trance-y on the album, encapsulating the heartbreak and gin-soaked psychedelia of a night under the neon. With its house beat and sub-three minute runtime, ‘Cold As Ice’ makes a prime candidate for radio play, with shimmering synth and incandescent harmonies.
Admittedly, the penultimate track, ‘Last Night on Earth’, is an underwhelming one, but the album’s closer hits all the right notes. ‘Dancing’s Done’ is quite possibly the strongest track on here, delectable in sound as Max invokes ‘dark temptation’s. There’s a little of Alice Cooper’s ‘Poison’ in the chorus, but you’ll find no sourness here.
At under 40 minutes, Diamonds & Dancefloors is a collection of razor-honed tracks – few stretching over the three-minute mark. They’re short, sharp jabs to the heart; stings of jealousy, heartbreak, renewal and defiance wrapped into impossibly catchy, dance-pop numbers. It’s clear that Max has put more emphasis on the dancefloor element (somewhat predictably) compared to her debut. But it remains just as cohesive, rich, and undeniably groovy as anything she’s ever done.