Nobody wants their art to be called boring. Artists say it in interviews all the time: “You know, you can love or hate my music, as long as you have a reaction to it and care about it. That’s what I’m really looking for.” Given how disastrous it is to be called boring, maybe the riskiest thing an artist can do is make something that invites the criticism head-on by eschewing excitement and novelty for subtlety and craft.
On her fourth album, The Bride, Natasha Khan, aka Bat for Lashes, takes that risk. It’s a concept album about a bride whose husband-to-be dies in a car accident on the way to a wedding, so she embarks on a honeymoon alone — not exactly something that is going to put asses in the seats, so to speak. Musically, the album is a similarly tough sell. Khan avoids the large-scale histrionics that might be expected of such a concept, instead focusing on quiet, contemplative songs that rarely offer the listener the satisfaction of a catchy chorus or a feel-good lyric.
And yet, The Bride is certainly not boring, at least to me, because Khan commits so fully to the concept, inhabiting her character and story and exploring its various themes — mostly heartbreak, with some bonus thoughts about the institution of marriage and how it affects women — with unusual depth for an album. Like a lot of “difficult” albums, it’s one that rewards the right listener, who has the patience to engage with it on Khan’s terms.
The Bride‘s greatest strength is Khan’s voice, which carries an album that is stacked with slow, melancholy songs that could be disengaging in the hands of a less talented vocalist. And more than just singing, Khan is also acting as the protagonist of this fictional story. That she pulls off this double-act is a testament to her talent, and it’s how The Bride works despite stacking the deck against itself with its inaccessible concept.
As for the story, it’s about what I expect from a concept album. It doesn’t have novel-level detail or development because it’s an album and that’s impossible, and it sometimes gets a bit repetitive with the “why me” and “where did my lover go” type lyrics. At the same time, it provides a through line that ties all of the songs together, and there is actual growth in Khan’s character over the course of the album, as she goes from excitement for her wedding, to heartbreak, to a kind of uplift and resolve at the end as she vows to love again.
For most of her career, like a lot of solo women artists, Khan has been burdened by comparisons to PJ Harvey, Kate Bush and Björk — singular artists who are impossible to truly replicate. On The Bride, she puts herself into that tier of innovative music storytellers, but does it in her own way with a work that feels very individual. It’s an album that is refreshing in its quiet boldness and its refusal to do the expected.