Laura Marling's 4th album in 5 years sees her blossom further as the assurances that her growing confidence has given her pervade her writing and her performance. As the naivety of her youth is realised in her early twenties she is now singing ever more expressively and openly about her own life. Her lyrical prowess and literary dexterity have always been an inherent and gloriously enjoyable feature of her songs and each song here more than justifies its inclusion. Laura's ability to impart her stories, lay bare her soul and expertly convey sentiment and feeling are what makes her work so intriguing and desirable.
Once I Was An Eagle, probably simultaneously her most ambitious and accomplished album to date, has concurrent threads and themes running through it making it even more cohesive and complete than any of her previous albums. Her recent re-location, rather aptly to the City Of Angels, and her newest romantic relationship have seemingly served to unleash and ignite a new stream of furtive creativity. If Once I Was An Eagle doesn't make the Mercury shortlist (Just as her 1st two albums did) we will be most surprised; this is definitely one of the best albums of the last 12 months.
The opening four part section of Once I Was An Eagle (Brought to life on film as 'When Brave Bird Saved') barely break for breath and are as fluid and connected as any you'll hear on an album. The mental wrestle and inner turmoil of 'Take The Night Off' flows beautifully into the unflinching, unapologetic and forthright title track 'I Was An An Eagle'. As with some of Laura Marling's previous work that focuses around her love life, her ability to dissect and dismember each detail seem to act as some sort of cathartic release giving the listener an almost voyeuristic perspective. Laura's growing maturity as an accomplished singer-songwriter manifest themselves with a surety and focus on 'You Know' as she pulls no punches with her opinions before 'Breathe' closes out the quartet with its mellow undulating waves of tenderness.
Such a sublime start is only part of the charm and character of Once I Was An Eagle. The percussive rhythms of the darkly seductive 'Master Hunter' skip along upbeat as Laura shares her anguish "I don't stare at water anymore, Water doesn't do what it did before, It took me in into the edge of insane when I only meant to swim". Segueing neatly into the Spanish lilt of 'Little Love Castor' Laura couldn't be more emotive. Her voice is as soft and wounded as on any of her songs, and may contain regret, but it is never-the-less a brutally honest confessional tale. Before the stringed instrumental passages of the half way 'Interlude', 'The Devil's Resting Place' picks the pace back up with whirring strings and tribal bass beats. Laura's dark and sultry side give rise to a mesmeric vocal set to a hypnotic soundtrack creating a stunning album highlight, both musically and lyrically. "Bitterness is thick like blood and cold as a wind sea breeze, If you must drink of me, take of me what you please. I am loathed to say it's the devil's taste."
A lightness of touch and youthful vitality is brought to the fore on the stripped back acoustic joy of 'Undine' before the addition of some fabulous organ chords help elevate the brilliant 'Where Can I Go' to a whole other level. Laura Marling once again works a wonderful juxtaposition between the optimistic sounding melodies and her frank, foreboding bleakness and realism, "Truth about desire they say, Is a need to breathe for another day. Truth I heard about regret, It's the hardest truth I've come to yet." 'Once' continues the organ thread with a subtlety that underscores Laura's warmly contented vocal in a masterful arrangement. The symbiotic working relationship between Laura Marling and producer Ethan John's is clear to hear throughout the album.
'When Were You Happy' sets up the final quarter of the album and sees Laura's voice set against a layer of guitars and occasional bongo beats. The arrangement gives such a fullness and warmth of sound that almost gives her the 'SoCal' sound of her new zip-code. The laid back notes of 'Love Be Brave' and the penultimate remorsefulness of 'Little Bird' draw the album to a close before the final track 'Saved These Words'. Saving her brightest and most optimistic view on love until theher final flourish makes sure that there is a life affirming ending to the album. Laura may have been scarred, tainted and even damaged in love but still shows she is prepared to open her heart again.....even if that love should form part of her "next verse."
Laura Marling's latest album is a masterful display of song writing performed with tragedy, drama, tenderness and realism. A richly evocative and emotional tapestry is realised throughout Once I Was An Eagle'. Her passionate, intimate and sometimes revelatory tales of love, longing, desire and deceit are both stunningly candid and stupefyingly wondrous. Stick it on repeat.
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