The Bride, the fourth album by English singer-songwriter Natasha Khan (aka Bat for Lashes), is yet another showcase of her talent as a musician, but it also represents her taking her storytelling to an ambitious new level. Khan has admitted The Bride began with her ventures into scriptwriting, and it seems as if album will soundtrack an as-yet unproduced film. What the listener is left with for the time being is an uncompromising concept album that feels both the advantages of its originality in form and the weight of its strict adherence to a narrative.
The story here follows the titular bride-to- be in the days leading up to her wedding, to her standing at the altar awaiting her husband who never shows. It’s not cold feet—he dies in a car crash (which is even rendered through brief sound effects). Khan speaks through the Bride with a surprising amount of honesty and hurt, as she goes through the stages of grief while on her honeymoon alone. For a somewhat ‘radio-drama’ experience, there isn’t much focus on narrative, a wise choice that allows Khan herself to explore the emotions behind the tragedy. From the wide-eyed fiancée of “I Do”, to the angry widow of “Honeymooning Alone”, to the fiercely determined survivor in “I Will Love Again”; Khan’s voice carries the full weight of the album. There are more than a share of emotional moments, but the peak for me was the subdued male vocals joining her on “I Will Love Again”—the first and only duet on the album, and the gentle urging for moving on from the spirit of her lost husband. It never felt melodramatic, but instead something closer to fantastical, in a tragic way.
Since her debut album Fur and Gold in 2006, Khan has toned down her complex ‘baroque-pop’ mixture of pulsing synths and complex melodies on classical instruments. That mixture is still here, though it’s been reduced to a more polished set of materials for each song—‘listenability’ over technicality. The tracks, whose lyrics are devoted to the narrative, are still able to stand on their own, though not as strongly as some of her older work. Much of the middle bulk of the album falls back upon The Bride as a full package. For example, the sweeping, orchestral “Close Encounters” followed immediately by the spoken-word “Widow’s Peak”—every track is good, but it’s the nature of the album that they are only ‘great’ when listened to in a continuous, focused setting. Still, there are enough strong ‘singles’ to take from the album for more casual listening: the thrumming, foreboding “In God’s House”, the tight and energetic “Sunday Love”, the barefaced piano-ballad “If I Knew”. All solid tracks on their own, but again, they really shine within the context Khan builds.
Bat for Lashes’ The Bride is an absorbing concept album that takes devoted listeners down to the deepest depressions of grief. It somehow dips into the constructs of pop, but takes the genre in a cinematic direction very rarely heard. Natasha Khan’s seemingly sparse concept develops into a mystic world full of spirits and soothsayers, as The Bride herself is transformed through a “veil of fire”. Though much of the album’s strength relies on the experience as a whole, it’s very much an experience worth the time.
Review by Matthew Wardell