#4: Bat for Lashes – “The Bride”

One of my favorite quotes from any television show is from Seinfeld, when Jerry is trying to beat a lie detector test and asks for George’s help. George gives this piece of advice: “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

When it comes to musicians — and disproportionately women musicians — there is often an assumption that the singer is being “confessional” and sharing experiences from their own life. Artists who do this are applauded for being honest and real, for putting every piece of themselves into the music.

While I admittedly love albums like that too, I think it has become overemphasized, and it doesn’t give music enough credit as a storytelling medium, or the artists enough credit as weavers of fiction instead of people singing out of their diaries. And it doesn’t give fiction credit for sometimes being more truthful than reality.

The Bride is a work of pure fiction by Natasha Khan, aka Bat for Lashes, which might be why it got a fairly muted critical response compared to her usual work. But while this album is all “lies,” Khan believes them. She commits fully to her story of a woman whose husband dies on her wedding day, and in unraveling her story gradually through the album, she finds real truths and moments of deep sadness and humanity.

This album is audaciously slow-paced, requiring a level of patience that I’m not sure many listeners have, and I’m sympathetic to anyone who thought it was boring. But I really admired how it was so self-contained and how dedicated Khan was to telling her story on her terms, even though she had to know not many people would meet her halfway.

Bat for Lashes – “The Bride”

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.