EA’s FLAG Flies at Half-Mast (Album Review, Pt. 1)
Fight Like a Girl is a different kind of record than I was anticipating. Opheliac succeeded because of Emilie’s famous electric violin and patented screaming well outside of her vocal range. These trademarks are nowhere to be found on this album, replaced with much lighter fare. Industrial takes a backseat to theatrical. This one is less a rock album than a soundtrack to a musical. The problem is that musical only exists in Emilie’s head.
Read on past the break for part one of my bi-polar review.
FLAG expects the listener to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of EA’s book, The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls in order to understand it. Those without the 266-page tome will likely find this concept album obtuse and difficult to follow. This was intentional, and brandied about as a selling point prior to release.
I can’t find it, but she said once you have to read the book three times to understand the record.
Having secured a first edition of the book long ago, I was all set to delve into the dual stories of Emilie’s time locked up in a psych ward and the fantasy tale of her Victorian era alter-ego Emily. I got the book, looked at the pretty pictures of EA in white t-shirts and drawings of leeches, then threw it on my shelf, never to be read from again.
This is not my bookshelf.
Well, lo-and-behold, I listened without reading and…
…have thus decided to release my review in two parts. It felt unfair to base my review solely on the merits of the music if it is supposed to be part of a greater whole. So, here are my thoughts on the record prior to reading TAFWVG. In the next few days I will add a new post with some quick thoughts after having read the book once. (I’ll add an appendix to the second post following my third read to put EA’s challenge to the test.)
In a metaphorical concept album battle royale, FLAG would hold its own for the first few rounds. While EA’s flute skills don’t match up with Ian Anderson, FLAG is a much more cohesive concept album than Aqualung.* It’s more structured than Sgt. Pepper, and more interesting than A Very She & Him Christmas. But in a head-to-head this would be crushed if it were to face The Wall (like the popular Emilie Autumn song of the same name. Ya know, that song that’s all electric violin? Oh, electric violin, how I wish you were here… (like the popular Pink Floyd concept album of the same name)).
The album begins strongly with the over-the-top electronica of “Fight Like a Girl.” “Time for Tea” plays like something out of a Darren Bousman movie. Not unintentional, I’m sure.
Things begin to go awry with “4 o’Clock Reprise.” This track plays like an opening to a film score, but really only lands if you’ve heard the 4 o’Clock EP. This problem persists throughout the record, as many songs depend on calling back to EA’s previous works. Only seasoned Plague Rats need apply.
Next is “What Will I Remember?”, a forgettable ballad recounting the thoughts of a suicidal girl, sung over soft strings
“Take the Pill” brings EA’s narcissism into view, finding the singer performing multiple parts which would have benefited greatly from differing vocals. This is passable here, but doesn’t quite work in the otherwise wonderful “Girls! Girls! Girls!” The song is a carnie-style sales pitch to come see some hot, crazy girls, live! However, EA putting on men’s voices to ask herself questions comes off as cheap, especially having been to the live show where the Bloody Crumpets take this duty.
Captain Maggot: “How big is a lady’s brain?”
Emilie Autumn: “It’s really very very small. A simple thought is quite a strain.”
Things slow down significantly, as Emilie has a duet with herself on “I Don’t Understand.” The weird little story of a boy taking a girl’s photo finds EA moving her male-voice impression into her normal vocal range, and her female-voice impression into the range of Minnie Mouse. This irritation casts Emilie as the Mike Myers of the alternative goth rock scene.
“Throw me a frickin’ bone here, people” – Emilie Autumn
Things stay slow for most of the rest of the album, as the pretty, but sometimes-off-key “If I Burn” rolls into “Scavenger.” The latter is a dark, plodding, tense song that smacks of influence from Amanda Palmer. It works more percussion into the mix and really begins driving home the helplessness of the asylum’s inmates.
“Gaslight” is a harpsichord driven melodrama, specifically designed to be a tear-jerker. There are calls back to the boy from “I Don’t Understand,” but without a real grasp for who the character is, this makes little sense out of context. However, the point is still clear: no hope is left for the album’s vague protagonist at this point.
The tempo rises one final time for “The Key.” The tension is raised as quick couplets recount an attempt to flee the asylum with a key given by a nurse, or something. A doctor catches our favourite inmate and holds a knife to her throat. Suddenly, this Mary Sue mentions for the first time an additional key strapped to her leg and what happens next she “couldn’t possibly explain.” She just wins. That’s it.
“Hell is Empty” is right. The climactic build-up of “The Key” is completely wasted. The implication is that the inmates rose up and killed all their oppressors. (Ya know, fought like girls? It really would’ve made a lot more sense for the title track to land right here.) Yet, this is never explored at all. Instead, there is a 1:11 musical interlude that lacks any sort of power and quickly fades back into soft melodrama.
Get it? Diablo III takes place in Hell, but no one could play. Hiyooo!
Thus, “Gaslight Reprise” doesn’t feel earned. It’s an ending to a story that hasn’t been finished.
As such, while “Goodnight, Sweet Ladies” should play as a great dénouement, filled with callbacks to songs from previous EA recordings, such as “4 o’Clock” and “The Art of Suicide,” it still winds up feeling hollow somehow.
“Start Another Story” is a harpsichord-only epilogue that brings the story to its conclusion. Cautiously asking, “what’s next?”
“One Foot in Front of the Other” is a fun cover of the “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” song, but feels somewhat out of place here. Did the inmates escape at Christmas time?
FLAG is a sharp departure from the industrial/metal sounds of Opheliac and its surrounding EPs. The sound is sometimes reminiscent of EA’s earlier fantasy-focused concept album, Enchant. Musically, this new record is fresh and ambitious (albeit not quite to my taste), but the thematic ground tread by this album is pretty worn by now. Having already released seven hours of music about the struggles of bi-polar disorder, it may be time for a new schtick.
4.203 out of 10
*Yes, I know Anderson denies this is a concept album, but I really wanted to put Aqualung in the Battle Royale picture.