Emilie Autumn’s new cd is an insane steampunk musical extravaganza that should appeal to show tune fans and EA’s 4 O’clock fans alike. More thematically coherent than her previous release, Opheliac, Fight Like a Girl tells the story of The Asylum for Wayward Girls with EA’s usual acerbic wit and dramatic sounds. Chilling, sad and witty, it should win new fans over to the Plague Rat cause.
Fight Like a Girl is probably the worst song on the 17 track cd, over relying on synth and signature growls to create a feminist call to arms. My voice is my weapon of choice… we fight for control, are lyrics that set the scene for the rest of the album.
Time for Tea uses a nursery rhyme to stand your hair on end, beginning in a relatively harmless way, but soon descending into a revenge story with an epic beat and great lyrics. Somewhere in the world it’s always time for tea… revenge is a dish that is best served now! and When I am good, I am very, very good, but when I am bad I am fucking gorgeous are such typical EA lyrics. I also loved the chorus of Hatchett CHECK! Electric Shock Machine CHECK! etc which reminds the listener that we are now deep in the asylum.
4’0clock Reprise is an instrumental version of the EA song 4’Olock. I like to imagine it is a transition instrumental into the past which will explain how Emily got so far enmeshed into madness and asylum, with Fight Like a Girl and Time for Tea thematic feminist choruses to set the mood for the rest of the album. Sometimes sounding like Phantom of the Opera, this shows a different, more orchestral side to EA.
What Will I Remember? is a lovely, sweet song that attests to the power of music for granting rebirth. I love how EA’s voice cracks with emotion as she sings this track, lending real power to the lyrics.
Take The Pill is a standout track for me. Though it refers to the Victorian asylum, its references to the overmedicalisation and over diagnosis of medical ills we see today gives it relevance in today’s society. I love the cold way EA sings this, so automated and heartless, with the doctors calm, rational and absolutely inhumane. Don’t you want to be sedated/don’t you want to ease this pain/if these pills are not effective we will electroshock your brain. Quite.
Girls, Girls, Girls is a traditional cabaret/musical number with EA performing all of the different parts. I prefer the live version with The Bloody Crumpets singing these parts but this song is still all kinds of brilliant with its comments on medicine, gender, sexuality and morality. I think that EA’s skills as a lyricist come out in this song in particular, though the entire album sports great lyrics. A portrait of insanity, approached with pure humanity. The irony is beautiful.
I Don’t Understand is one of the few songs on this album that doesn’t work for me. I feel that this album works best when EA works with the concept of gender, madness and the medical community, rather than when she tries to tell the specific story of her book. This song refers to a scene directly from her book, is sing speaking, and really adds nothing to the album.
We Want Them Young sees a return of the doctor’s to the cd with an interesting and different intro for an EA compilation, focussing on tribal sounding drums and impersonal, cold tones. look to your daughters, look to your wives, sends shivers down my spine with its cold impartiality and brutality. The inmates cry of I should be home by now/someone will come for me is also absolutely heartbreaking
If I Burn is signature Emilie with her warbling vocals and growls. If I rise up in smoke around your eyes you’ll know it’s me is very creepy as the inmates start planning revenge. I especially loved the ending where Emilie sings powerfully, It’s not over till it’s over, and it’s never over, with one of the album’s major themes the ability to fight back and to fight on, regardless of the odds.
Scavenger is another skin crawling song about those who serve the medical community with their hunts for the poor to perform experiments upon. Not strictly historically accurate, but in a steampunk universe who cares? I loved the way this song also relates itself to the capitalist status quo with lyrics like This isn’t personal/we’ve all got mouths to feed/supply and demand. The call and response between the scavenger and the inmates with supply and demand and someone will come for me, are repeated in this song to great effect.
Gaslight is an inmate song filled with pain and depair at the realisation that no one is coming to the inmate’s rescue, and that what’s more, society knows what is happening and doesn’t care because medicine is power. Emilie’s cracking and broken voice adds so much to this song. Even my Mum, who doesn’t listen to EA, found this song touching by the time it got to and nobody’s coming, coming to take me home.
The Key is a straight out narration/poem set to music and again is an album weak point because EA tries to tell the story of her book directly.
Hell is Empty and Gaslight Reprise are instrumentals as the inmates take control of the asylum.
Goodnight Sweet Ladies is a bit of a throwback to Enchant era Emilie, with beautiful overlaid voices delivering a musical eulogy to those who died or were battered for the sake of the asylum and an escape to freedom. You lie but sleeping, someday we will meet again, made me all teary and the clever mix of original lyrics and The Art of Suicide and 4’Oclock were a pleasant surprise. The first time I listened to this album, Goodnight Sweet Ladies was a standout.
Start Another Story seems to be the logical conclusion to What will I Remember? focussing on picking oneself up off the floor despite difficult times with the call of Just remember a day gone by, is never really gone, if your tale goes on.
One Foot In Front of the Other ends the album on another stand out track. Its marching beat and staccato sing song style rests on the premise of hope for the future. The inmates are changed and bruised by their encounters with the asylum but their revolution has been successful and now what identity and name will they make for themselves? My favourite lines are If I’ve no one to fight/how do I know who I am?/One foot in front of the other foot with Emilie acknowledging that winning the battle is only half the win. There are no easy answers, but if you don’t give up, you haven’t lost.
Steampunk clangs, grinds, growls and cranking permeate the album’s sound. Emilie’s voice has never seemed so versatile, her lyrics never more powerful. A friend of mine described Fight Like a Girl as one where it’s first two songs seem so outrageous you think EA is exaggerating the need for feminist and medical revolution. The genius lies in the fact that by CD’s end, you agree with every damn word the woman sings. If you take this cd to be a blow by blow musical to her book, I think you will be disappointed but if you take this album to be a very clever concept album of madness, power and gender in the Georgian and Victorian era, with clear parallels to now, it is sheer genius. More accomplished than her other two studio albums, this is my favourite EA album yet.
Fight Like a Girl: 5/5 inky stars