Ten years ago, Natasha Khan released Fur and Gold, her debut record as Bat For Lashes. The lead single, ‘What’s A Girl To Do?’ surpassed everything that came out that year – let us not forget that was the year of ‘SexyBack.’ Digressions aside, that song is a harrowing admission and realisation of the decline of a relationship, set to a triumphant, Spector style drum line and an unmistakable keyboard hook. Since that impressive debut, the conflicted and confused girl has lived, learned and loved again, and now on her fourth album, she has become The Bride. For this record, Khan has adopted the persona of a woman on the cusp of marital bliss only for her dreams to come to an end as she enters a new chapter as a widow and not a wife. Much like the protagonist’s diversion to a tale of tragedy, this album is full of promise only for it to suddenly be taken away from you, but there is light at the end of the thirteen songs.
The Bride is a heavily theatrical concept album born from Khan’s desire to write a screenplay which she subsequently decided to structure as a storybook of songs. Prior to the release of the album, images and music videos emerged promoting the record, alluding to a highly produced stylistic. Along with this, Bat For Lashes chose to perform exclusively in small churches and requested that people attend the shows in formal dress. Shortly after the album was released, a correlating exhibition opened showcasing artwork from the album. Suffice to say, this has been a heavily marketed endeavour. Indeed, the hype worked and as a moderate fan of the band, I got caught up in the hype. Initially, I was not disappointed by what I had heard. The singles preceding the album, ‘In God’s House’, a heavy synth embodying a contemporary wedding march transforms into an ethereal moment of musical magic, and ‘Sunday Love’, are two of the most interesting and bold compositions on the album. Once I had the album, and the melancholic noir sound of ‘Honeymooning Alone’, another sublime example of Natasha Khan’s unabashed experimentation and openness with human themes played in my ear, I was committed to giving The Bride a five-star rating.
The opener, ‘I Do’, is a dreamlike fairytale, a sumptuous first encounter that will arouse your curiosity, effortlessly enticing you into the unknown. There is so much promise in the first impressions, which are fuller bodied and considerably more accessible than Bat For lashes’ 2012 release, The Haunted Man. However, as you delve further The Bride becomes a conceptual album of two halves. Think of the famous wedding day tradition, to carry something old, new, borrowed and blue. The old is the constant to Khan’s sound, marrying (if you’ll pardon the expression) big drum beats with synths that venture between classically traditional arrangements and paces, and dark and sinister undertones. This formula is most obvious on ‘In God’s House’, the most experimental of all the songs on the album. What is new about Bat For Lashes’ sound throughout this record? Well, Khan has extended that heaviness of the sound to more songs on the album, something I feel was lacking in previous records. Borrowed is the frustrating stark similarity in piano on ‘If I knew’, to that viral cover Scala and Kolacny Brothers and their choir of Belgian children did of U2’s ‘With or Without You.’ And as for blue? This encompasses a few aspects of The Bride, most obvious, her eyeshadow and more seriously, the depths that the themes of love and death conjure – it’ll leave you feeling blue.
Reflecting on her inspiration, Khan mentions that while the album is very much centred on this character, the songs are also a universal exploration into the process and the immeasurable gratification to be enjoyed in finding contentment on your own. The Bride takes you through the stages of a relationship, and aptly the process of grieving. Listening to the songs you will experience joy, anger, loss, and then, finally, acceptance. It’s definitely an album that will tamper with your emotions, and it should be noted that this album is one that grows on you. There are several beautiful and musically mesmerising moments throughout The Bride, but I feel that the aesthetic and marketing of this album, the visual aspect, all overtake the artist’s intent. There’s a battle between style and substance with this album, where ingenuity is allowed to be replaced with static compositions that bleed into each other. I am referring to ‘Widow’s Peak’, until ‘I Will Love Again.’ These are pitchy, and difficult songs to incorporate into your routine. You may find yourself skipping past them, or returning to the first section.
The inconsistencies throughout The Bride are frustrating because there are so many moments that excite you and suggest that Bat For Lashes have finally produced an album that is marvellous from start to finish. Unfortunately, this has become a recurring feature in Bat For Lashes’ discography. On every album, there will be songs that totally invigorate you, such as ‘Daniel’, ‘Trophy’, and the aforementioned, ‘What’s a Girl To Do?’ and now, ‘Sunday Love,’ ‘Honeymooning Alone’, and the stunning, pared back epilogue, ‘Cloud.’ Have the tissues at the ready when you listen to the latter, it’s an emotional melter. But these compositions are rare, like glistening pearls giving wealth and substance to the shell. Those moments have always left a bigger impression on me than the faltering, waning ones. Committing to The Bride is rewarding and your relationship with the songs and the character will deepen once you overcome the dizzying excitement of the honeymoon period.