21 years old. 3rd solo album. 2 Mercury nominations. Winner of a Best Female Brit and numerous other awards. Former member of Noah & The Whale and with a rich stream of interesting collaborative ventures, including those with The Rakes and Mystery Jets, already behind her. Still just 21 years old. (You need to adopt a Greg Wallace accent for the next sentence) Singer song writers don't come better than this.
Ever since the release of her first solo album 'Alas I Cannot Swim', at the tender age of 18, Hampshire's favourite folk femme fatale, Laura Marling, has been lauded for the quality and depth of her extraordinary music. Her songs have highlighted her ability to lay bare a relationship and candidly capture the emotional turmoil being experienced by her characters. She has a phenomenal ability to impart the complexities of a relationship, giving you incredibly insightful voyeuristic glimpses, whilst leaving the listener with questions and scenarios that take your imagination still further. She may insist that "They (her songs) are personal. But they're not confessional" but they do help reveal some of her otherwise more private persona and personality.
Laura Marling may be a slight of frame, tender looking beguilingly beautiful waif who has a disposition that would lead you to believe that she was timid and unassuming. After you've listened to a few of her songs it's obvious that's not nearly the case. Laura may sing in a sweet, sensual, seductive, ethereal and serene tone but at times that is quite at odds with the unfolding story lines in her songs. "He taps at my window, willing that I let him in. I don't think I will though my heart's taken I won't tell him again"......"He wrote. I'm broke, please send for me. But I'm broken too and spoken for. Do not tempt me"....... "Dear lover forgiven, my love is driven by rage. I should just leave you instead of deceive you, but I don't." They may not be completely auto biographical pieces but you are always completely blown away by the stark reality conveyed in the feelings of pleasure and, above all, real pain and anguish that some of Ms Marling's relationships have obviously encountered.
The new album, 'A Creature I Don't Know' sees Laura sharing more of her inner most thoughts through some of her more polished and produced work to date. Whilst taking her sound forward and broadening her appeal through a more sophisticated 'glossier' style it has also meant that some of her rougher, youthful, edges have been rounded out to the detriment of the overall character of the album. It has also been said that she was encouraged, or at least told of the possibilities, of writing in a different style. We are all still learning and should never under estimate the possibilities born out through experimentation but after two completely stunning, near faultless, releases you have to question the need for such a suggestion, it's not as if she's in some sort of creative lull............her songs presently "Want to be written rather than (her) trying to write them."
Probably in a move to immediately set this album apart from its predecessors, the opener, 'The Muse', is not typical of Laura Marling lyrically or musically. Honk-tonk piano, jolly banjos, lavish strings, acoustic guitars and bassy percussion work as the back drop to Laura's light refrain. I had trouble getting past this song each time. I didn't, and still don't, like it as an opener. The see-saw violin and simplistic rhyming couplets are nowhere near her best work on this or any other album. 'I Was Just A Card' starts to redress the balance and restore faith, but even here the 'cool' horns and smoother vocal don't work as well as they might.
'Don't Ask Me Why' is, for me, where this album truly begins as it starts to give up its magnificence. The ache in Laura's voice and the theatrical arrangement of the strings make for a wonderful combination that help conjure up some vividly imagined scenes......."I took the wind from the sea. I took the blood from an arrow. I took the wisdom of spring. I was thrown and blown and tossed and turned until time found its hand and called it an end." 'Salinas' sees a more potent streak revealed as the track builds with a bawdy electric guitar intermingled among the mele before the choral close out.
The pivotal track on 'A Creature I Don't Know' is the brooding, violent and menacing 'The Beast'. Of all Laura's work to date this is the most aggressive and overtly confrontational. Gathering pace and tone with each note the song is more Indie than Folk, more jagged and more raw in power than any of her previous output. This is like seeing a more demonic or sinister side to the normally more placid Ms Marling, and it's absolutely fantastic. The intro may lead you into a tranquil daydream but once the drum and bass kick in this song just pushes ever further, gaining momentum and power with every utterance. What was suggested in Salinas comes to bare glorious fruit with the spectacular triumph of the latter third as a cacophony of fuzzy noise washes about.
'Night After Night' sees a return to more familiar sounds with Laura's vocal paired back to reflect the sombre mood of the song. The arrangement is minimal and the instrumentation simple, but the song is no less effective. You can hear Laura's lips part as she sings so closely into the microphone with such conviction and presence. "He screams in the night, I scream in the day. We weep in the evening and lie naked and pray." 'My Friends' shows a lighter touch initially as the haunting harmonies are set to the undulating score . 'Rest In Bed' shows further evidence, if any were needed, of just how good a singer song writer Laura Marling is. Her ability to tell a story and perform it so well are just superb. You believe in her characters, you have buy in, you understand, or at least you want to. She draws you in so well. If there were an equivalent to method acting in song then this surely is it.
The album is brought to its conclusion by two contrasting, but compelling, tracks. 'Sophia' almost meanders through the glow of an evening twilight before it bursts out into a joyously up lifting jamboree with a Mediterranean hue. 'All My Rage' closes out the ten track set, as if to confound the listener a little further, with Laura singing the most traditional of folk songs on the album to the most conventional arrangement.
'A Creature I Don't Know' is another great album from this great artist. It is not however her best work. It may bring further prizes and awards as Laura's profile is raised still further and her music is given more of a mainstream audience. I don't think it will see Mercury nomination number 3 (Unfortunate as she was clearly robbed, as they like to say in certain football circles, on number 2). The album does show how she has developed and what a truly great writer she is. There are some fantastic songs, some flashes of genius and throughout Laura is in fine voice. We get a chance to hear where her sound is taking her and ponder as to what will be next. Form suggests it will be worth the wait even if you were waiting for something else!
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