It’s weird that it has taken this long for Natasha Khan deliver a concept album.
It’s weird that it has taken this long for Natasha Khan (aka Bat for Lashes) to deliver a concept album. Her work under the moniker has so far had an understated grandiosity to it, creating insular worlds and blowing them up to cinematic proportions in the process. But unlike her previous work, The Bride deliberately strives for that grandiosity in all ways. Here Khan seeks a sense of both narrative and musical cohesion that, had it been done properly, would have made The Bride her finest achievement yet. Unfortunately, despite succeeding relatively well from a narrative standpoint, The Bride is perhaps a bit too understated to work on the level that Khan intended.
The story of The Bride is a tragic one, and it’s one that Khan delivers with an impressive amount of clarity. Khan plays the titular character, a woman whose wedding is undone by a freak accident. The listener follows the bride on a journey through her psyche as she deals with the mental and emotional rebuilding that comes with losing a loved one. Khan plays the narrative wonderfully, giving listeners a sense of hope with “I Do,” a peaceful ballad that scarcely hints at the devastation to come. From there, Khan’s bride veers between quiet despair and near-hysterical outbursts of emotion. At its best, this approach digs right into the soul: the solemn “Honeymooning Alone” is as heart-wrenching as anything she has done under the Bat for Lashes name. Further on, the surreal “Close Encounters” chronicles our protagonist’s descent into grief-stricken madness, yet still finds something comforting in the ordeal. It depicts the bride’s delusions as a coping mechanism, one that works surprisingly well.
Once one steps away from the story of The Bride and considers the music, it becomes very clear that the album is a musical display of comfort and ease. Very little about The Bride could be called “challenging,” and after years of pushing and twisting her sound into new ideas, Khan seems quite content with making a fairly by-the-numbers Bat for Lashes album from a compositional standpoint. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; Khan can write and perform these sorts of songs better than just about anybody. However, given how intricately crafted and polished the lyrical narrative of The Bride is, it’s a shame that that same creative ingenuity wasn’t applied to the music. Given that we know exactly what Khan is capable of as a songwriter, it’s unfortunate to see her playing down to expectations in this way.
At its best, The Bride is still a remarkable achievement. Rarely does narrative storytelling work in pop music, and the fact that Khan crafted such a fully-formed story with an engaging protagonist is an accomplishment unto itself. Compared to the rest of Khan’s body of work, though, The Bride comes across as more of a curiosity, albeit a noteworthy one. As momentarily brilliant as it is, there’s a level of comfort expressed by Khan as a musician that can’t help but feel deflating when one considers what she can do. Despite its aims, The Bride doesn’t achieve greatness. It does, however, come tantalizingly close.