2016 Mercury nominee Bat For Lashes receives Album Of The Month for the accomplished The Bride
As Bat For Lashes, Natasha Khan earned Mercury Music Prize nominations for her 2006 debut Fur And Gold and its follow up Two Suns. Her third album, 2012’s The Haunted Man, a set of beguiling art-school pop on which her lofty soprano floated beguilingly above her characteristically dreamy soundscapes gave her a first American chart entry. Yet despite such critical and commercial success, a feeling persisted that she had more to give and we were still awaiting her first truly great album. At 36 and no longer the fluttering ingénue, The Bride is that record, destined to catapult her into the premier league.
By creating a concept album in which she is playing a role rather than singing about her own inner-life, Khan has at a stroke liberated herself from the confines of the confessional, pages-from-my-diary shtick that seems to be the expected currency of female singer songwriters.
Conceived as the soundtrack to an imaginary movie, on The Bride she assumes the identity of a woman who is left at the altar when her husband-to-be dies in a car crash on his way to the wedding. Consumed by an overwhelming grief, she climbs into the honeymoon car and drives off on a voyage of self discovery as she seeks the strength to put her life back together. By the end, she has acquired a self-knowledge that suggests not only acceptance of her fate but a hard-earned transcendental wisdom.
A classic ‘break-up’ album with the twist that it’s based on mortality rather than betrayal, Khan pulls it off with a smartly judged mix of melodrama and subtlety that delivers the narrative compellingly. Richly textured and sonically layered – the result, perhaps, of seven different producers – opener I Do floats idyllically on a heavenly harpsichord, a suitably naïve evocation of the anticipation of wedded bliss, before the dream is brutally shattered via the terrifying electro-beats of In God’s House and the theatrical Honeymooning Alone, which opens with the sound of the screeching tyres of a crashing car.
By the spoken-word interlude Widow’s Peak we’re in full-on emotional meltdown. But then comes the purgation via the piano and AOR chorus of If I Knew, a ballad where she evokes her inner Karen Carpenter, and the gentle guitars and mellow strings of In Your Bed, before the ethereal Clouds ends the album with a sadder-but-wiser restoration of calm.
Epic, accomplished and ambitious, The Bride sees Khan emerge as the most significant British female singer-songwriter since Kate Bush. NW
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