Using the album as a form of story-telling has long been Natasha Khan’s preferred approach.
On 2009’s Mercury-nominated Two Suns she was inhabiting the character of Pearl, a femme fatale. Three years ago on The Bride the perspective was of a woman whose fiancé dies on the day of their wedding. It’s a useful tool, allowing Khan to put her emotions on display whilst hiding behind the veil of a concept album.
The approach is being used once again on this fifth album, but the music has been given something of an overhaul. Khan relocated to LA a few years ago and this was initially conceived as a script for an 80s-set film (the title gives a reasonable insight into her thought process regarding the style of the film). Logic dictates that the music has to fit accordingly, and so it does.
Kids In The Dark taps into the same style that Tame Impala have been successfully mining for half a decade. It’s sumptuous and romantic with Khan’s fragile voice over shimmering keys. Jasmine is hushed and sensual, successfully exploiting her contralto skills, and Safe Tonight also greatly showcases her vocal dexterity while in contrast, Desert Man is more familiar Bat For Lashes territory, more elegant than much of what surrounds it.
But musically it’s fully in thrall to the decade that fashion forgot, for better or for worse. The Hunger features sparse but effective piano and intricate background guitar which is bolstered by thudding drums. It’s Florence Welch set to Depeche Mode. Feel For You is funky afro-beat with multi-layered vocals, but neither distract from the guitar which seems a little too close to Nile Rodgers’ contribution to Bowie’s Let’s Dance for comfort.
Speaking of The Dame, instrumental piece Vampires cribs the saxophone from Lazarus and blends it with Disintegration-era Cure, all phased out bass and spiky, effects-pedal drowned guitar. Not for the reason that it doesn’t feature Khan’s vocals, still the highlight of the album.
The 80s influences aren’t always from the best sources; So Good is a synth workout that seems designed to bring out The Robot in the listener, while Peach Sky features irritating effects that bring to mind the naff TV shows of the era. The really cheap ones.
As ever, it’s a hugely dramatic album, Khan continuing to demonstrate her unique ability to capture the nuances of the human emotion through her lyrics. She should also be lauded for not resting on her laurels musically; it’s true to say much of Lost Girls is new territory. The problem is that it’s not new musical territory in general. As well as the aforementioned Tame Impala, Pave Waves released much the same album last year and there are countless other examples.
The strength of Bat For Lashes is that she has always stood apart from the crowd, but on Lost Girls she finds herself standing that little bit closer.