It’s obvious from the moment Natasha Khan overconfidently declares that “all the sorrow will drop away” on “I Do,” the opening track of Bat for Lashes’s The Bride, that she’s setting her protagonist up for a rude awakening—or at least a flurry of terrifying dreams. Sure enough, lead single “In God’s House” finds Khan’s bride left at the altar, prompting visions of her paramour’s fiery demise that blur the line between paranoid fantasy and premonition.
The album follows a rather straightforward narrative structure: girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl traverses various physical and metaphysical planes of grief, girl looks inside herself, girl moves on and into someone else’s bed. In a year where Beyoncé’s Lemonade supposedly reinvented the breakup album, The Bride has surprisingly little to say about individual identity in the face of loss and the shattering of one’s romanticized vision of love. And yet, the first half of the album proffers a thrilling setup, as it’s quickly revealed that the groom is indeed dead, resulting in Khan’s character honeymooning alone and mourning his eternal ride down the road to the altar.
The album works best as a song cycle rather than a collection of pop hooks.
With the drama wrapped up—along with the album’s most memorable arrangements and production flourishes—by the time “Honeymooning Alone” opens with the sound of a car crash, The Bride’s second half is rendered somewhat aimless, composed of a series of ethereal but often formless dirges and a spoken-word piece that wouldn’t sound out of place on Lana Del Rey’s Honeymoon. On the aptly titled “Close Encounters,” for example, Khan’s lover is just a ghostly specter, but so is the song, the singer’s voice floating atop a mass of B-movie string samples and pulsing drums.
That The Bride works best as a song cycle rather than a collection of pop hooks is a testament to its cohesion and intrinsic intertexuality, but what’s missing here is Khan’s knack for grafting avant-art-rock concepts onto mainstream forms. Aside from the album’s first two singles, including the infectious, synth-driven “Sunday Love” (her most immediate single since 2009’s “Daniel”), few songs resonate outside the context of the narrative. Accessibility is, of course, a small price for attempting to push beyond the usual album fare.