When Bat For Lashes hangs up her wings and stage name for the evening after a long day of being an eccentric singer-songwriter, does she have a cup of tea and shove the telly on? If Natasha Khan channel hops, I have a sneaking suspicion that she lingers on Don’t Tell The Bride. In the lead up to The Bride, Khan released a save-the-date as well as a lead single and video; this was to be a concept affair, and those buying tickets to her live shows were encouraged to dress formally for the occasion. According to the press release, “The Bride follows the story of a woman whose fiancé has been killed in a crash on the way to the church for their wedding. The Bride flees the scene to take the honeymoon trip alone, resulting in a dark meditation on love, loss, grief, and celebration.” Heavy stuff, then.
Like most normal people, the words ‘concept’ and ‘album’ anywhere near each other in a sentence illicit musical hives. Not all concept albums are terrible, but there does seem to be a correlation between an attempt at a concept and albums that completely miss the mark.
I hated The Bride on first listen.
In my notes I’d scribbled crossly that she sounded like Miss Havisham on downers wandering into the music video for Waking Up In Vegas. I don’t want to take back that sentiment, exactly, but repurpose it with a touch of fondness.
This is not a cheery listen, not by any stretch of the imagination. It’s moody and sparse, with Khan’s vocals going from girlish and breathless to belting and then back again. I think I’d be disappointed if Bat For Lashes was anything other than completely bizarre. That’s why I like the image of Khan in pyjamas at 3PM on a Sunday, hungover, eating dry toast, and watching Don’t Tell The Bride reruns – I’m convinced that such a menial activity would inspire the kind of metaphysical questions in her that she then commits to a concept album in order to answer. It really is a marriage-like commitment too, which further endeared me to the record. The music videos, the live performances, save-the-dates, the whole lot. It’s not for everyone, no, but she’s not making it for everyone. Invitation only, no plus ones.
It’s a slow thirteen tracks of sparse and tender self-evaluation. I didn’t really get it until I listened to Widow’s Peak, track eight, for a second time. On paper, it sounds like potentially the worst song on the album: a spoken word piece with acoustic guitars and tense drums framing it. Hold your eye-rolls. “You’re my blood,” Khan states plainly. “You’re my wine.” It is here she is at her clearest. When everything is gone, all the bride has left is herself, and the memory of a man she painted into a god. The lyrics throughout the album are romantic, abstract, like David Lynch reading Pablo Neruda, and the clarity of her speaking cuts through tartly, which is just what the album needs at its half-way mark.
The best song on the album, however, is undoubtedly Sunday Love, ringing eerily like Daniel, the bestselling single from her 2009 album Two Suns. It’s a very satisfying kind of continuity to listen to, as it isn’t a carbon copy, but brings back the past enough to leave familiar listeners pining as she sprints away. As a little slice of electro-indie within the otherwise contained and reserved story of The Bride, it’s perfectly balanced, and I would recommend the track even to those who would hate the rest of the album.
There’s clearly been a lot of thought into every aspect of this concept, especially sonically. Every pause feels like it sits where it has to, and even if it’s not exactly to your taste I don’t think anyone could deny it’s a lot of hard work, and it’s paid off. Natasha Khan doesn’t care if I like it or not, and that’s pretty much what turned my opinion around. It’s not perfect by any means, as the highs of Sunday Love and Widow’s Peak are offset by her vocals at time veering off into thinly contained yelps and whines that no amount of artistic licence can defend. But even with that being the case, it’s still interesting, well-paced, and varied enough to be worth a careful listen.
Regarding concept albums in general, maybe this is the exception that proves the rule. It’s softened my feelings towards them, and there are certainly a lot of other artists that could take some notes from this example.