[sic] Magazine

Laura Marling – Once I Was An eagle

It’s official – we can now fully celebrate the fact that within our midst is the supreme modern songwriter with her remarkably short but productive career ranking her alongside the greats. The journey of Laura Marling from the sensitive bedsit balladeer of Alas I cannot swim to the epic solo sweep of this new album Once I was an eagle has never faltered or been side tracked. Her intensity of purpose has been such that her albums now punctuate time as landmarks and it is a damn painful wait until the next one.

Largely dispensing with her band, Marling has looked inwards and shines an often-dark light on her personal and romantic situation. The word ‘confessional’ has always been a label applied to her but there is something altogether more penetrating and often hurtful at play in this record. Producer Ethan Johns has again let her songs expand and breathe. This is exemplified in the first seven songs where Marling and Johns let them flow and in essence they morph one into the other in an almost seamless sequence. In the hands of a lesser songwriter this could be a stifling bore but Marling performs small miracles in these compositions. One unifying factor is a link through a frenetic guitar motif which harks back to the Indian themes of the Dharohar Project, but despite this these songs stand in their own right as an powerful statement where Marling snarls, emotes and accuses ex lovers of the ultimate romantic failing – sheer disappointment. In the stunning title track she ruefully reflects “I will not be a victim of romance/I will not be a victim of circumstance/Chance or circumstance or romance/Or any man who could get his dirty little hands on me” . Slightly later on the uber powerful ‘Breathe’ a song packed with menace she confesses “How cruel I am to you/How cruel the things I do/How cruel you are to me /How cruel time can be” and you reflect that getting on the wrong side of Marling is not a wise place to be. The tension ratchets up on ‘Master hunter’ where she echoes Dylan and proclaims “Well if you want a woman who can call your name It ain’t me babe/No, no, no, it ain’t me babe” .

The pressure cooker atmosphere does let up following the albums eighth track interlude. The rolling bluesy acoustics of ‘Undine’ are more in tune with the type of approach employed on ‘I speak because I can’, while the sad reflective acoustics of ‘When can I go’ with a hint of organ is a Marling trademark song and a obvious single. At this early stage ‘Pay for me’ with its sweet melody sounds like a standout while ‘When you were happy’ is almost spoken and the wordplay is dazzling. The album finishes with ‘Little Bird’ where Marling’s confidence absolutely oozes through and the song almost demands the repeat button. Finally the sixteenth song on this album that extends over an hour is ‘Saved these words’ a slow builder that leads up to almost a Led Zep style neo folk barrage while Marling almost lays down a challenge when she exhorts a new lover to recognise that “Life’s is not easy/and you’re not master, son/when you’re ready/into my arms come” .

Marling has of late decamped to the West Coast and there are many American influences here. She has admitted in a recent interview that I don’t know whether I’ve sort of fallen out of love with English charm, the reservedness of it….” . This shift to a more transatlantic focus has liberated Marling. Listening to her previous albums the easy thing to do was to search for peers and Joni Mitchell was the most obvious of these. But on this new album Marling is her own woman. What is incredible however is that Laura Marling remains in her early twenties and the sheer scale of her song writing maturity and achievement. It begs the question how can she keep raising the bar on each album and how much better can she get?