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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can – Album Review

It's a welcome return for the precociously talented Laura Marling, with a second album of dark and ambitious compositions that belie her young age

Written by Nina Joyce

laura marling i speak because i can album cover

Sometimes I can imagine a Laura Marling height chart on my wall. I’ve seen her as just a girl, more about the fresh-faced ponytailed pinnacle of the human pyramid she posed in for her first feature in Amelia’s Magazine way back in Issue 5 (always the first to spot them, this right?). And I can still see her later, buy information pills when she cut it to the blonde elfin crop that accompanied the release of debut album ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’ and her relentless touring of festivals across the country. Now my height chart is nearing completion as Marling stands proud, and newly brunette, one foot firmly in womanhood with the release of ‘I Speak Because I Can’.

She’s come far in a short time but in a seemingly alternative parallel to a Disney teen queen (though with much less terrifying results), matured with a spotlight fixed on her. God forbid anyone should see the diary of my seventeen year-old self, let alone find it encapsulated on record forever. Was Marling’s choice to leave a song as popular as “New Romantic” off her debut, with its naturally youthful realism but occasionally awkward heartbreak over the guy that was ‘really fit’, her own attempt to leave the past behind? Despite audience calls for a live rendition, Marling has seldom appeased them. A stoic and determined diminutive figure would instead pick up her guitar and let silence fall as she let the charms of ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’ wash over eager spectators. Standout efforts such as “Ghosts” and “Cross Your Fingers” showcased Marling’s capacity for creating songs that proved that a soft combination of pop and folk were a winning formula. Their galloping rhythms and sweet melodies were the perfect accompaniment for Marling’s now more abstract musings on matters of the heart, whilst her earthy, mesmerising voice drew comparisons to a younger Joni Mitchell and her ability to knit together the rhyme of her lyrics with such ease had you drawn in in a matter of minutes.

The accompanying success for such achievements could have easily short circuited the minds of most eighteen-year-olds. But Marling seems to be cut from a different cloth. The interim between releases saw Marling retreat from the so-called nu-folk scene dominated by artists such as Emmy the Great, Johnny Flynn and Noah & the Whale (her former band fronted by former boyfriend Charlie Fink) and begin work on a record that would mark her out among her contemporaries. ‘I Speak Because I Can’ does not necessarily have the same bouncy singalong charm of its predecessor but is a darker offering that shows Marling’s growth into an assured and headstrong artist.

Seemingly rising from the ground in a chatter of instruments tuning themselves to a perfect pitch, and faraway, fleeting glimpses of swelling calls, shouts and whispers are the heady introduction to “Devil’s Spoke”, the album opener. The stamping, hearty rhythm thunders with the power of Marling’s guitar, banjo and a booming devilish voice that proves Marling is truly the new powerhouse of her folk scene. “Devil’s Spoke” is a thundering overture that whips you into its whirlwind and is a perfect preamble to Marling’s adventures in her riveting world rich with images of lush English countryside and folklore tales. She hasn’t lost her touch for soaring vocals even amongst the rattle and hum grittiness, but as she advocates the curious joy of, “ripping off each other’s clothes in a most peculiar way,” we come to realise that the Marling on ‘I Speak Because I Can’ has learnt a few new things at the University of Life.

Marling doesn’t necessarily ever make it easy to work out what she’s saying; her imagery floats among a menagerie of characters, times and places all inextricably bound by the eternal dilemma of the feminine. With a transcendental quality akin to the writings of Virginia Woolf, Marling leads us from the damaged but resilient daughters (“Hope in the Air”) to the recovering lovelorn (“Rambling Man”). Her stories seem timeless in the context of her wholesome, charming melodies and bewitching lyricism. The strength of her strumming guitar beats out her message that, “I was who I am,” throughout “Rambling Man”, a song which seems to be the next evolution of Marling, the same strapping echoes of riffs, tumbling banjos and female vocals but with a more robust outlook that doesn’t seem to wallow in the helpless naivety that ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’ tended towards. Plucked strings and tiptoe basslines give way to a ritualistic waltzing on “Alpha Shallows” and a woman who lets her words fly out in the pronouncement that she, “wants to be held by those arms”. Meanwhile, “Hope in the Air” presents Marling as our very own Sister Grimm, her song rising from a murky water of booming piano and plump ominous notes spilling from her guitar: “There is a man that I know/Seventeen years he never spoke/Guess he had nothing to say.” Marling’s voice rises in a battle cry for the losing battle of female emancipation, “There’s hope in the air/There’s hope in the water/But no hope for me, your last serving daughter”, that presents a dramatic urgency to her troubles. It can all seem a tad too much but if you let yourself become susceptible to the hypnotic and transportive quality of Laura Marling then you are, for a few minutes, taken somewhere else.

“Made by Maid” is a fine canvas for Marling to spread her art upon; a simple guitar that twists and turns on itself and her own silky but deceptively deep voice are the only tools she needs to showcase a talent that has come so far in the little time we have known her. A track that will undoubtedly become a cornerstone of Marling’s gorgeous live performances, “Made by Maid” is a touching postcard from the heart, floating through woods, river and from birth in a sweeping ride through the pastoral imagination. “Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)” takes us on the same trajectory in proud display of strong violins, gentle and delicately placed piano and bass that seems to melt the chill of the picture Marling paints. More hopeful and a nod to the fast-paced lyricism of the girl of the past, she lets her voice dip and soar over chipping riffs like a springtime bird. Similarly, “Blackberry Stone” is a chance for Marling to take centre stage to scorn those who, “never let her be.” A fluttering guitar and long warble of the violin back her add a delicacy and gentle hum to a story of sadness but smouldering, eternal strength.

Don’t worry though, Marling hasn’t entirely turned her back on the shimmering and catchy melodies that earned her a significant fan base; penultimate track “Darkness Descends” is a bouncy summer bike ride that you can ‘ohh’ and ‘ahh’ to in all the right places. Perhaps not entirely letting her hair down, Marling keeps a rein on things as, “the sun comes up…too bright for me,” but lets the pace slip back and forth at a rate that can only invite your toes to start tapping.

The title itself, ‘I Speak Because I Can’ is a statement of Marling’s headstrong autonomy and independence. Solitary reflection is the impetus of her new music rather than any kind of inflated sense of self associated with the kind of appraise Marling has received in recent years. Mercury Prize-nominated and a darling of the music press, Marling had every opportunity to produce an album that capitalised on the expectant audience clutching at the straws of ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’. Marling is brave for releasing a darker, reflective and at some points polemic album such as ‘I Speak Because I Can’, but this move can only help cement her reputation as a stalwart of English folk. Her delicate birdlike nature has bolstered itself to a heady mix of feminine charm and attack; she still has the gentle appeal but there’s suddenly a lot more substance. In her final incarnation and title track of the album Marling becomes the author of the retelling of the Greek tale of Odysseus and his wife, her imagination and ability to traverse time and space allows her to maintain a perceptive and warm comment on the most eternal of situations: heartbreak. Whilst ‘I Speak Because I Can’ showcases the same beguiling markings of her previous effort, Marling presents a record to be proud of because of its differences, its refusal to play to formula and its explosive creative expression. Perhaps part of me will miss the breathless rhymes and skippy beats but Marling was always going to grow up. Never giving too much away and trying on a variety of different personas, ‘I Speak Because I Can’ is proof that despite the long, sometimes painful and sadly always public journey, Marling has found a place in her powerfully evocative imagination to let us sit comfortably for a while and listen to what she has found.

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