Exploring femininity in all its personas is a major part of Bat for Lashes' music, and never more so than on The Bride. On Natasha Khan's fourth album, the titular character undergoes a more dramatic transformation than most brides do at their weddings: After her fiance is killed in a car accident en route to the wedding, she flees the church and goes on her honeymoon alone. It's a more single-minded concept than some of Bat for Lashes' other albums, and since Khan's music is as theatrical as it is vulnerable, it should be a perfect fit. However, The Bride's journey through romance, horror, grief, and healing is more subdued than might be expected. The album begins vividly: Bedecked in fluttering harps and some of Khan's loveliest vocals yet, "I Do" has all the showy nuptial romance of a petal-strewn aisle. It's so incredibly sweet that it feels like it's tempting fate, offering the perfect setup for the brewing terror on "In God's House," as well as the slow-building drama of "Joe's Dream" and the hallucinatory panic of "Honeymooning Alone," both of which give the death-obsessed pop of the '50s and '60s a highbrow update.
Depending on listeners' patience, however, The Bride's slower second half may be hypnotic or dreary. To trace the arc from mourning to recovery, Khan relies on ballads that range from bitter ("Never Forgive the Angels") to empowering ("I Will Love Again," which sounds more like the kind of fare Adele or Christina Aguilera would sing). And though she gives the bride a surprisingly happy ending with "In Your Bed" -- which finds the character wanting to stay in her lover's arms rather than go out on the town -- it feels like her story is missing several chapters. Similarly, The Bride often feels like a missed opportunity to revisit the drama Bat for Lashes delivered so ably on Two Suns. Khan rectifies this somewhat on more mystical songs like the witchy invocation of "Widow's Peak" and "Close Encounters," an eldritch lovers' meeting that recalls Wuthering Heights (both the book and the Kate Bush song). Still, it's hard not to want Bat for Lashes to go further down this path; while Khan used restraint eloquently on The Haunted Man, The Bride is beautifully crafted, but not always thrilling.