Review Summary: Her resolute refusal to change is holding her back.
If there's one thing you certainly can't accuse Fight Like a Girl
of, it's being rushed. It's true that it's quite rare these days that I become aware of or interested in an album more than a fortnight or so before it's released, but through following Autumn on Twitter, it seems like I've been hearing about this record for over a year now. Maybe I have; apparently the title was announced way back in 2010. Although in fairness she has also released a book and had surgery on her jaw in that time, the constant mentions of Fight Like a Girl
moved from being a tease to an annoyance a long time ago.
The least you can ask for, under those circumstances, is that the album sounds like it had a lot of time spent on it, that the two years (at least) it's been in development haven't been wasted. Happily, that's exactly the case; in terms of its music, Fight Like a Girl
is clearly a carefully considered album, one where the finer details have been given just as much attention as the bigger picture. This allows her to attempt things that she hasn't before and come out in credit; it's a little reminiscent of Joanna Newsom's Have One on Me
in that regard. (As much as I dislike comparing female musicians to each other when talking about their music and not their voices, I honestly can't think of any man around right now in the genre that's interesting enough to be worth mentioning....) It's an assured, mature, confident performance in that regard...
...which makes it even more of a shame that her lyrics haven't really moved on at all. Autumn's problem has always been how badly she labours the point about her performing persona, which is a mixture of burlesque sexuality, a gleefully self-destructive sense of faux-innocent feminine insanity she shares with Amanda Palmer, and a splash of feminism 101 opinions4u. At times this works very well - the quasi-hilarious "Thank God I'm Pretty" is still one of the most bizarrely beguiling songs of recent years - but it has often felt more like a crutch than a facade. On Opheliac
, you could typically overlook it, but the improvements in the music here mean that it grates more than ever before here.
Then again, it could simply be that the lyrics have got worse - I'm deliberating picking the worst example here, but something like 'I'll get my revenge on the world, or at least 49% of it', from the title track, is just brutally bad. There is an excuse here, in that Fight Like a Girl
is intended to be a concept album about a number of female inmates in an asylum that rise up and overpower their wardens, but it's not really I can see much salvation in; it's a little like saying Motley Crue have written a concept album about sex or Andrew WK has written a concept album about partying, you know? It runs a little deeper than that though, because if Fight Like a Girl
teaches me anything about Autumn as a lyricist, it's that she does well writing about things vaguely, setting a scene, but when she needs to delve into specifics - as she often has to here, thanks to the concept - she starts to falter. Try out "The Key" if you want both sides of that played out for you.
She remains a fascinating artist, and there's a lot to appreciate about Fight Like a Girl
(especially if you're the kind of listener that relegates lyrics to secondary importance), but I'm starting to get the feeling that Emilie Autumn is only going to fulfil her potential as a recording artist if she ditches her current persona, and I can't see that happening at any point in the near future, not while her live shows (which hinge completely on the personality and mystique she presents) remain as spectacular as they are. Maybe that's a trade-off we should be happy with.