Semper Femina by Laura Marling explores female relationships and turns this theme inwards to contemplate her own identity in this sparse and beautiful collection of songs.
Laura Marling, veteran troubadour at the age of 27 has always had an uneasy relationship with her own talent. Her self-deprecating stage manner belies the strength of her songwriting and the beauty of her singing. When you read the kind of vitriol spouted about her recently in the comments section of a major newspaper you begin to see the reasons for her doubt. To be born so beautiful, so talented, so privileged is a burden that haunts her work. You also wonder if any man equally blessed would be so modest.
Opening the album with the strangely hypnotic Soothing suggests this is an artist with wounds that need healing. Her previous album Short Movie was the soundtrack to a gap year adventure of sorts and even hinted at a possible Judas-style embrace of electric guitar. Instead this album dials backwards to the acoustic sounds of her previous work. The Valley echoes Nick Drake or Simon & Garfunkel’s quiet harmony and explores the complexities of how to help a friend who is suffering. Wild Fire is a slow burn of a song, which rakes through the embers of a troubled female friendship, but can’t help turning the focus onto her own flickering identity. When Marling sings are you getting away with who you’re trying to be? you hear the uncertainty creeping into her voice.
There is a sense that such constant contemplating of self has caused Marling to become trapped in her own image. Always This Way acknowledges this to a certain extent but you can’t help but question why she sings that she has ‘nothing to show’ for her 25 years. Coming from an award winning artist with six albums to her name you can see how many would find this attitude somewhat disingenuous. But think about this from a more compassionate angle and you can see that Marling herself is questioning whether her music career (and therefore life) has truly had any purpose. This doubt is present throughout the album, with songs such as Next Time suggesting this fear extends to her relationships.
The final song Nothing Not Nearly is stand out both melodically and vocally, echoing the existential crisis seen in much of this album and her previous work. The song suggests a year long depression has been the cause of this constant ‘pondering’ and only the renewed hope of love has kept her alive. When the song fades out to birdsong you cannot help but share some of the positive relief.
Yet to bask in the afterglow of these songs is never a heavy experience for the listener and there is much warmth to be found in this album. What direction Marling will take in the future is somewhat uncertain but you can’t help but hope she finds the courage to look outwards and experiment further with the joyful possibilities of her unquestionable talent.
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