Why should I die so you can live? Laura Marling sings on the opening track of her new album Song For Our Daughter. Alexandra was partly inspired by a Leonard Cohen song and also how over history women were often only valued in what they could offer men – as muses or as mothers. Marling sings these songs for her own imagined daughter, dreaming of a future where women can live and love in a world free from such bullshit.
Her last album Semper Femina was beautiful but verged on overserious at times, full of doubt about her identity and what it meant to be a woman. As a songwriter she has been prodigious from a young age, her voice wise beyond its years but that brought a heavy burden too. Ironically on this, her seventh album, she sounds younger and more carefree than before. You wonder if all the searching she did growing up has brought her answers to life’s deeper questions or maybe she’s just learned how to let the mystery be.
Deciding to release the album early is another sign that she’s not worried too much about expectations. The first track she released, Held Down, is an intimate invite into the beginning of a relationship with its shifting and unexpected feelings. The music is quietly lush, embracing strings and layers of gorgeous backing vocals.
On Strange Girl she advises us to throw out our records, start over – maybe that’s exactly what we all should do with those albums by narcissistic men we were guilty of falling in love with. The song celebrates friendship and is a reminder to keep brave in the face of everything.
Only the Strong muses on her past and the nature of love itself. Bruises all end up benign, she concludes leaving her pain behind and hoping her new love can be different this time. Blow By Blow unfolds slowly and beautifully, played on piano. The harmonies add to the haunting air of tragedy.
Song for Our Daughter explores the confusing, overwhelming experience of being a woman (and an artist) and wonders how anyone can find a way through undamaged. Truthfully we can’t. The line ‘there’s blood on the floor/Maybe now you’ll believe her for sure’ shows what we have to give of ourselves to even be listened to. And no, despite what one reviewer said, I don’t think you need to be a mother to really understand what’s it’s like to give advice to a daughter. For Laura her ‘daughter’ is also the young musician coming up after her, walking in her songwriting footsteps. Their inheritance is what she’s interested in, making sure they can be heard and not have to experience some of the same things she has.
To be a woman is to understand unbearable pain, that’s the hard truth she reveals on Fortune – inspired by her mother who always kept a jar of money as a getaway fund in case things went bad. No woman should ever have to live like that. Songs are her escape route, her fortune, a way to make sure she isn’t trapped by such pain. On The End of the Affair, inspired by the novel of the same name, she sings of freedom. I love you, goodbye. Let me live my life. Her voice has never sounded better.
Hope We Meet Again accepts the reality of a love lost and there’s some sweet slide guitar on this one. Interestingly I just read in a interview where she admits that Americana music is her ‘least favourite’ and she was consciously avoiding that sound, which is kind of ironic since this album has just hit the top spot of the Americana chart. For me her music has always been a mixture of indie, folk and Americana and while there’s certainly less of the latter on this album it is odd to hear her disparage the genre that has clearly inspired her. You do wonder if she is just deliberately trying to step away from her past influences such as Ryan Adams and her association with Mumford & Sons, who have been so mocked for appropriating that style.
By the end of the album she finds love and celebrates it. For You is a sweet melody with Beatlesesque backing vocals from her boyfriend. She thanks god for this love, this gift, cherishes the simplicity of her emotions and the promise of a better future.
Song for Our Daughter is Laura Marling’s most optimistic and hopeful record yet. It sounds nothing short of sublime.