Album Review: Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can
Poor old Marling’s been through the mill. She burst onto the London folk scene late 2007 with a trajectory that can only be described as meteoric – and entirely unsuited for this hushed, boyish 19 year old, who played, hunched, petrified, in front of gaggles of teenage girls at sold-out and sold-out again concerts, her eyes fixed resolutely on her trainers, the lyrics to her gentle folk songs tripping out of her barely-opened lips almost involuntarily.
Fame and Laura Marling just didn’t seem to mix – it perched itself all too heavily on Laura’s slight shoulders, and blighted where it should have blessed. And after a very public break-up with Noah & The Whale front-man Charlie Fink, on the subject of which the arduous folkie devoted an entire album to, you wouldn’t blame a less confident musician for disintegrating into a trembling bag of nerves.
Not our Laura, however – in an astounding, phoenix-like display of rebirth, Laura has kicked her demons to the curb, and announced the release of, not one, but two new albums – and even ‘I Speak Because I Can’s title speaks of defiance, insurgence, triumphing over one’s own infernal doubts.
And, as is typical with musical renaissances, the maturing process Marling has gone under is apparent from the first pluck – gone is the gawky teen who chirruped about ‘The guy that I could never get/ Cos his girlfriend was pretty fit’ and mused on burned-out rock star failures -in her place is a straight-backed Victorian maid, all refined with perfectly clipped syllables and outstretched pinky finger – you certainly wouldn’t find this lady waking up on a bench in Shephard’s Bush Green, that’s for sure.
On tumultuous opener ‘Devil’s Spoke’, Marling is a pure-bred daughter of Mumford, summoning up a feral storm of plucking and hacking like a vengeful siren, reeling like a spitfire, rearing up on her haunches, raising her hackles and snarling ‘Eye to eye/ Nose to nose/ Ripping off each other’s clothes in the most peculiar way!’. It’s impossible to imagine the Marling of yore uttering these lines in anything else but acute embarrassment – testimony to just how much Laura’s confidence has grown.
‘Blackberry Stone’ is one of the oldest tracks on here, and the most familiar – the gently cascading rhythm is accompanied by lyrics dealing with the more accessible theme of a relationship in trouble: ‘And you never did learn to let the little things go/ And you never did learn to let me be’. However, the undisputed album centrepiece is the shimmering ‘Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)’, which comes across like the aural equivalent of a roaring fire – all gently tumbling strings and rushing, woody organ.
Elsewhere, ‘Made By Maid’ sees young Laura spinning a lush, woodland narrative to rival anything on Ms Newsom’s ‘Have One On Me’- ‘Crawled out of the fog/ Found a river, found a log/ And floated away’ – indeed, much on ‘I Speak Because I Can’ bears similarity to Newsom’s ‘Have One On Me’ – both are preoccupied with the roles of womanhood and the burdens of their own femininity – but while Joanna prefers to dwell on the role of women as lovers, Laura gaze never goes far beyond the hearth – she is the eternal mother, maid, downtrodden house-wife, keening, submissive servant-girl.
And that, perhaps, is where ‘I Speak Because I Can’s stumbles– as lovely and as evocatively decorative these quaint sentiments are, they bear no resonance on the listeners consciousness – her musings on maids and mothers, downtrodden housewives and country lanes are far too stylised to seem entirely genuine.
Laura has admitted in interviews that, in a search for inspiration, she has based much of ‘I Speak Because I Can’ on historical letters from wives to their absent husbands in the Second World War, and it may seem crotchety, but the battered, second-hand emotions weaved throughout ‘I Speak Because I Can’ ultimately lend the album a distinct lack of intimacy.
It’s a pity, because when Laura really does speak from the heart – like on the transcendent line of ‘I’m too good for that! There’s a mind under this hat!’ on the sumptuous ‘Goodbye England’, her passion etches itself onto your being for months to come – even weeks after listening to ‘Goodbye England’, lines from the track still floated, sporadically into my consciousness, and burned as brilliantly bright as they did upon first listen.
However, it’s so heartening to see Laura exhale deeply and step, cocksure, into the limelight that any negativism seems insufferably sour – it’s undeniably wonderful that lovely Laura is able to speak because she can, but it’d be even lovelier if she’d just use her own tongue.