I wouldn’t be the first one to bemoan the death of the full album. Yes, artists still release full-length records but, more often than not, they are a collection of singles, especially when it comes to releases from mainstream artists. However, as of late there have been some notable exceptions. For one, Beyoncé basically destroyed expectations when she not only released an album with no prior notice, but also released a complete series of short films to go with it. Beyoncé told a visual and personal story, a rare feat for many commercial releases these days. Artists have even begun to embrace the performance aspect of music in a more Bowie-esque manner. Beyond the outrageous theatrics of Lady Gaga, we were blessed with St. Vincent’s self-titled fourth album in 2014, where she introduced a new look and new persona, emulating collaborator and mentor David Byrne with her peculiarly choreographed onstage movements.
So I guess it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that the concept album is making a comeback, ushered in beautifully by Natasha Khan aka Bat For Lashes. The Bride tells the story of a bride jolted after being left at the altar, but not in the traditional sense. This bride has been left devastated on her wedding day by the death of her husband-to-be, who perished in a terrible accident. This is an exciting change for Khan, and not solely because she has taken a more visual approach to her art — though the Wild at Heart-esque video releases for “God’s House” and “Sunday Love” certainly don’t hurt. This is the first time we’ve seen Kahn really take an artistic leap, and it pays off.
Though this is not the first instance of Khan taking on a persona — she assumed the name “Pearl” for her sophomore album Two Suns — it’s the first time that she has committed as deeply as she does on The Bride. It’s a welcome and gratifying shift for fans of 2012’s The Haunted Man, a superb album that showed Khan moving away from the witchy, boho-exoticism of her first two releases, and gave a glimpse at the raw emotional beauty that she is capable of capturing. All of this comes to the forefront in her latest effort, with the bride’s tragic story setting a perfect backdrop for her newly accessed emotional rawness.
The opening track, “I Do,” sets the tone for the impending heartbreak, with a sound so light and hopeful that it seems destined to be punctured. The loss of innocence begins on “Joe’s Dream,” when the bride starts to feel that something is amiss, and those fears come to fruition on the next few tracks. The trio of songs “In God’s House,” “Honeymooning Alone,” and “Sunday Love,” are the album’s masterpiece. The three tracks flow into one another elegantly. The propulsive paranoia of “In God’s House” is stunning, tumbling into the languid terror of “Honeymooning Alone,” and ending in the unrelenting pounding of remorse and fear in “Sunday Love.”
Though there are some lulls as the bride works through the anguish of loss across multiple tracks, each song still holds its own as beautifully poignant reflections and helps to carry the listener to the (thankfully) hopeful conclusion of the moving “Clouds.”
There’s a comparison that many are going to make when this album is released, and I can’t help but make it myself: The Bride finds Bat For Lashes emulating Kate Bush at a level that’s incredibly exciting for fans of the legendary avant-garde songstress. Bush pushes boundaries while simultaneously creating otherworldly, beautifully transporting masterpieces. It seems that The Bride solidifies Khan’s standing as a worthy successor to the queen of art-pop. Long may she reign.
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