Shock value can be a double-edged sword; it can certainly draw attention to an artist and a product, but it can also inadvertently overshadow the merit of the product itself. Apparently, The Haunted Man, the third release from Bat For Lashes (aka Natasha Khan) flirts with that line, in that nearly every review I’ve read of the record spends almost as much time talking about the provocative album cover as about the music itself. (Including mine, it would appear.) You can almost hear the gears turning in so many brains: “Yeah, the music, blah, blah, blah…but oh my God, she’s naked!”
Get over it, boys. Or girls. (The man draped over her shoulders is also naked. Hm.)
Honestly, the album art is not really out of character for an artist known for pushing the boundaries of creativity, and when you listen to the record, it actually makes sense in context. It speaks in part to the stripped-down production value of The Haunted Man compared to the thicker textures of Khan’s previous two records. Much of the reverb has been removed from her voice, allowing her vocals to drive a broad range of emotions throughout the album—from the believable bliss of the opening track “Lilies” “Thank God I’m alive”) to the near-desperate whispers on the title track (“Twisted all our dreams till you became the nightmare”).
But don’t confuse stripped down for simple; far from it. The tracks on this album drip with all the drama and pathos Bat For Lashes is known for, employing tasteful electronic elements, male choirs, and even the occasional marching-band drums. The whole thing is highly creative, due in part to the fact that Khan seems to be able to fill the empty spaces with so much feeling.
Speaking of feeling, there is one standout track on the record that has to be mentioned. “Laura” is perhaps the sparsest track, but it is also the most powerful, telling the heart-wrenching story of a sad, tragic woman who may or may not be a real person. “When your smile is so wide and your heels are so high / You can’t cry.” It slays me every time I listen to it.
While the creativity is inspiring to souls like mine, the one drawback is that there is not a lot on the record that you can take away with you. This isn’t necessarily a record where you’ll come away singing the hooks (except perhaps for “Laura”). Then again, that’s not necessarily what the record itself is about. It’s more than a collection of songs; it’s an artful listening experience. If you take it that way, The Haunted Man is highly satisfying overall.