Now, you didn’t think the Lady of the Manners would talk about flouncing happily around while listening to the Fight Like A Girl album without telling you all about it, did you, Snarkings? Perish the thought.
First things first: FLAG (as Fight Like A Girl is referred to), is a very fun, clever album. It is the soundtrack to Emilie’s book, The Asylum For Wayward Victorian Girls, and if the listener doesn’t have at least a passing familiarity with that book, FLAG may be a smidge confusing. In many ways, Emilie Autumn’s Opehliac release was more approachable for people not familiar with her work: its “Victorian-industrial” songs about struggling with madness, emotional turmoil, feminism, and classical poetry are catchy and stompy while retaining a sense of being covered in tattered, antique lace. (Or, as Emilie Autumn described her music: “like the best cup of English Breakfast spiked with cyanide and smashed on your antique wallpaper.”)
The songs on FLAG are also all of those things (especially the air of being covered in tattered antique lace), but they were obviously written to be performed as part of a musical. (Which, as Emilie Autumn said in the interview with Gothic Charm School, is what she is planning for.) There’s a storyline linking most of the songs together, and several of them sound like they’ve come from a production that is ready for its West End or off-Broadway debut.
Personally, as much as I’m a fan of musical theatre, my favorite tracks from FLAG are the ones that don’t fit tidily into that category. For example, the opening track (and first single) “Fight Like a Girl” has become, against all odds, one of my favorites. I say “against all odds”, because at first listen, “Fight Like a Girl” is very … dance-pop in sound, complete with some obvious auto-tune tweaks used for effect. In other words, the sort of thing I don’t listen to very often. But “Fight Like a Girl” is insidiously catchy, and the lyrics are bitingly snarky.
“Time For Tea”, the second song on the first single, is musically as far away from “Fight Like a Girl” as it could possibly get, with growly vocals (almost Cookie Monster vocals, in some spots) interspersed with crisp spoken sections, all wrapped in a wall of distorted noise. But, much like “Fight Like a Girl”, “Time For Tea” is ridiculously catchy, and I find myself randomly humming parts of it all the time. (But not unconsciously singing it out loud, thank goodness, because even quietly singing lyrics like “… when she was good, she was very very good, and when she was bad she was HOMICIDAL”, while fun, is frowned upon in work meetings.)
“Take the Pill” is the track that I heard for the first time at the January 2012 Emilie Autumn concert, and it mesmerized me. It was the song I was most looking forward to from FLAG, and it didn’t disappoint me. It’s a scathing song about how blithely medication is (all too frequently) prescribed instead of looking for a solution, and how the benefits of the medication are counterbalanced or outweighed by the side-effects. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of better living through chemistry, and I do believe that “taking your meds” can fix many things. But I am also grimly aware that the best of medical intentions still leave people floundering to decide which is worse, the illness or the cure. “.. take the pill that’s fucking with your mind. That’s all you have to lose … that’s funny.” The seemingly interminable wait between the first time I heard “Take the Pill” live and finally having the album was worth it, and it’s easily my favorite song off of FLAG.
“If I Burn” is a song that started out life before the Opheliac album, and it’s the song that has the most in common with Opheliac. Musically and lyrically, “If I Burn” is a sibling to “I Want My Innocence Back” and “I Know Where You Sleep”. It doesn’t fit in with the pop stylings of “Fight Like A Girl” or the rage (suppressed or screaming) of “Time For Tea” or “Take the Pill”, but it doesn’t match the stage musical stylings of the rest of the songs. However, it acts as a good bridge between those very different approaches, and it’s a pity that “If I Burn” doesn’t come earlier on FLAG.
The rest of the songs on FLAG have a very stage musical flavor, which is a little odd, but charming for the most part. “What Will I Remember” is a heartrending ballad that muses about mortality and wondering if anyone would notice if the singer vanished from existence. “We Want Them Young” is the song where the chorus ominously warns of the plight of women committed to the Victorian asylum, and “Girls! Girls! Girls” is the kicky vaudeville number that sensationalizes that plight, exhibiting the inmates as racy entertainment. (I must confess: when Emilie Autumn Twittered that she was recording a song called “Girls! Girls! Girls!”, my immediate reaction was a sense of astonishment that she was covering a Motley Crue song. Now that I’m familiar with the Emilie Autumn song, I see it, in a way, as a grimmer reflection of that Motley Crue cockrock anthem. Both songs are about women being viewed as things that only exist to entertain and be objectified.)
“Gaslight” is another pretty, melancholy ballad, and is a musical summary of a large chunk of plot from The Asylum For Wayward Victorian Girls. I can easily picture Emilie standing on stage, lit by a single spot and singing, the rest of the set illuminated with flickering blue lights as the rest of the cast pantomimes the actions the lyrics mention.
To me, the weakest song on the album is “I Don’t Understand”, and I suspect that it would work far better on stage as part of a musical production. For one thing, the song is meant to be a duet between the character of Emily (with a “y”, and yes, it’s a thing from the book) and the young man who has been brought to the asylum to take glamorous photos of the inmates. On the album, Emilie Autumn sings both parts of the duet; she uses different vocal ranges and stylings, but it sounds odd and forced. In a musical production there would be two different performers, and the narrative around the song would be much more apparent.
The album ends on a defiantly triumphant song with “One Foot In Front of the Other”. This is the song Emilie Autumn closed her live shows with during the last tour, and seeing her and the Bloody Crumpets perform it gave me chills. The song acknowledges the horrible things that have happened, but reminds us that sometimes the most important thing is to keep moving and trying. Since Fight Like a Girl was released, “One Foot In Front of the Other” has become a song I listen to on especially difficult days.
On the whole, I think the Fight Like a Girl album is a delight, and I hope that Emilie Autumn is able to carry through her plans of turning it into a stage musical with a full cast. Until that happens, I’m looking forward to seeing her on tour.
Fight Like a Girl track list:
- Fight Like a Girl
- Time for Tea
- 4 o’Clock Reprise
- What Will I Remember
- Take the Pill
- Girls! Girls! Girls!
- I Don’t Understand
- We Want Them Young
- If I Burn
- The Key
- Hell is Empty
- Gaslight Reprise
- Goodnight, Sweet Ladies
- Start Another Story
- One Foot In Front of the Other
With that, Snarklings, the Lady of the Manners is going to go off and have a cup of tea (or perhaps a glass of absinthe), and go play with dolls. (All in the name of finally writing the review of them, honest.) Does the Lady of the Manners need to give you the Correspondence clicky-link again? Well, better safe than sorry, one supposes …