BAT FOR LASHES
Lost Girls (AWAL/Kobalt)
Natasha Khan’s avowed aim with her fifth album as Bat For Lashes was two-fold: make an album drenched in ‘80s electronic sounds; make it commercial. I wish she’d had a third leg to that: make it more.
Not more ’80 electronic, for this has the glistening synth beds, the sprinkled keyboard runs, the machine tooled rhythms, the airy surrounds of the voice (Peach Sky feels peak late-in-the-decade Madonna, even with its tape backward vocals interlude), the nominally funky basslines, and a sense that the world really is a sun-drenched film set peopled by good looking types who either are Rob Lowe or know someone who has slept with him.
And in case you were wondering, in the instrumental, Vampires, there is that absolute necessity of ‘80s pop, the saxophone – maybe even borrowed from Spandau Ballet’s Steve Norman.
The album is not bright and bouncy exactly, though the spring-heeled Safe Tonight could make you dance with those big swinging arms you may remember from the I’m Talking filmclips. And in fact the best song here, the album’s closer, Mountains, is a song of movement that never shakes the sense of a lingering ballad.
However, the atmosphere leans towards the kind of retro-futuristic optimism of that decade’s pop which, unlike the dystopian prospects in the alternative/underground scenes, trusted in a reworked future to fix problems we had made for ourselves.
By the by, Britain-raised Khan, who is both screenwriter and songwriter these days, now lives in Los Angeles - a kind of metaphoric travel from the past-fixated to the future-obsessed.
I’m not certain Khan needs to make Lost Girls more commercial either. Not when we get Kids In The Dark, which has more shine on its keyboard sounds than the floor of Stranger Things’ Starcourt Mall, and more reverberation in its synthesised drums than an LA earthquake; and The Hunger, which feels like a cross between Roxy Music’s Avalon and Belinda Carlile’s Heaven Is A Place On Earth; Jasmine, which brings both spoken word parts and a healthy dose of Tears For Fears when they were on the cusp of swapping the primal scream room for the big-arse convertible; and So Good, which reimagines handbag disco.
That package suggests a decent spread of the ‘80s revival which has been enjoying its time in the sun for a while now, and more than a few connections to Taylor Swift’s Lover, including the aforementioned tough-fragile Mountains. Someone should be playing this record on the radio.
What Lost Girls needs is more Bat For Lashes.
The Bat For Lashes who could evoke grainy atmospheres and shadowed relationships, not just sleek, reflective surfaces. The one whose songs had left turns, not uninterrupted Sunday drives. The one who surprised and sometimes discomforted.
The one who could do all those but still bring some attractive melodies and fascinating rhythms that lifted her from any charge of wilful obscurity.
Natasha Khan got her wish and Lost Girls is a perfectly pleasant album. I wish it were more.