The last time we heard from Natasha Khan, it was as Sexwitch, collaborating with the band TOY and producing an intriguing if slightly uneven collection of covers of 1970s psych-folk songs from all over the globe. Less than a year later, she’s back as Bat For Lashes and on far more familiar ground with The Bride, a concept album about, as the title may suggest, a wedding.
This is no ordinary wedding which Khan is documenting though – in her tale (and a spoiler alert should be added here), the groom to be dies on the way to the church, and Khan’s titular bride takes off on her honeymoon alone with her memories of her lost love. As this twist happens pretty early on in the album (during the third track, In God’s House, in fact), there’s a danger that the story could run of steam, but that never seems to be the case.
For, like all the best concept albums, The Bride is pretty much written as a novel. It starts off bright and hopeful, with Khan’s character looking forward to her wedding day (on I Do), news of the accident slowly filters through during In God’s House, and then from Honeymooning Alone we’re onto the road trip section with added meditations on mortality and the loss of a loved one, before the uplifting, redemptive closing trio of I Will Love Again, In Your Bed and Clouds.
It all sounds gorgeous of course – anyone who’s ever heard a Bat For Lashes album knows that Khan is a master at the piano ballad, and while there’s nothing to quite stand alongside the likes of Laura or Daniel, there’s plenty to induce swooning. Joe’s Dream, although being heavy with portentous meaning, is Khan at her beautiful best, Never Forgive The Angels ebbs and flows skilfully before transforming into a bluesey drone, and If I Knew is reminiscent of early Tori Amos with it’s rolling piano chords and Khan’s strong, clear vocals.
As you’d expect with subject matter this deep and emotional, the pacing is pretty one-note, with only the excellent Sunday Love’s pulsating electro-pop raising the tempo a notch. Truth be told, you have to be in the right mood to listen to The Bride – the funereal pace and constant air of sadness can feel rather oppressive. As nicely crafted as much of the album is, you’d probably not want to listen to the spoken-word mediation of Widow’s Peak on repeat any time soon, although the light does eventually shine back in during The Bride’s closing tracks.
Concept albums are notoriously tricky to pull off, but Khan has become a master at balancing the narrative with the music. Every now and again, a line will stand out that perfectly encapsulates the darkness that The Bride has endured (“My love is gone, and I will never forgive the angels for that”), and at times it’s almost cinematic, such as the opening to Honeymooning Alone where the sounds of squealing brakes and a car crash gives way to some Spaghetti Western-style guitars. Some may write it off as one-paced (and they’d have a point), but there are moments of heartache and beauty here that will be hard to touch in 2016.