In just five short years Laura Marling has released three studio albums, and will next week release her fourth; Once I Was an Eagle. This alone is a huge achievement, but the fact that she’s only 23 and all her albums to date have ranged from good to excellent is another thing all together. As a solo artist, Marling is one of my beloved favourites, as her music and lyrics access a part of me so rarely exposed by even the best of musicians. Thus, as you’d imagine I had high hopes for this new album after the creative success of A Creature I Don’t Know, and as of this moment they reach most of them.
Listening to Once… feels as if you’re hearing Marling at her most raw, with an honesty that’s truly profound, whether this leads to her best of artist offerings is a little hit and miss at times, yet it’s a very personal element. Whereas her previous albums felt as if she was taking on many different personas for many different stories (particularly in Alas I Cannot Swim) this album appears to be a fusion of these characters along with her own. This means that one thing that Once… truly masters is continuity; the transition between songs is almost seamless, and the whole thing feels extremely holistic as a result. It starts off fairly laid back with ‘Take The Night Off’, which sounds very mellow yet calming in that respect, shifting easily into ‘I Was An Eagle’; an extremely intense and confident piece, seemingly casting off the element of victimhood felt in Alas– “I will not be a victim of circumstance.”
In fact, following her progress from her debut, Marling’s identity as an artist has matured greatly and this really shows in Once... . In ‘Breathe’ she really excels, with intelligent use of violins and cellos to build into an overwhelming crescendo, revealing her developed understanding of musical atmosphere. Hints of this were present in A Creature I Don’t Know, with its inclusion of electric guitar and other instruments, but it’s been fleshed out in Once… . Lead single, and possibly the best song on the entire album is ‘Master Hunter’, a track as aggressive, rhythmic and unpredictable as the most fearsome of predators. ‘Where Can I Go?’ is also a standout track with excellent bluesy vibes from the use of an organ; something clearly owing influence to Bob Dylan.
‘Little Love Caster’ turned out to be another simply beautiful track, a pure come-down from the aggression of ‘Master Hunter’, especially with its sublime guitar technique which enchants and moves me greatly. But after ‘Where Can I Go?’, with the exception of ‘Once’, the album slows down considerably and in my opinion too much. As it almost inevitably must with a 16 track LP, nothing really stands out from track 12 onwards, which is a shame after the excellence of what came before.
Despite this, I do really love Once I Was an Eagle, but I love it up to the point of about two thirds through. Though the whole thing feels as if it doesn’t require a structure, as if Marling literally sat down and played whatever came into her head at the time, which does feel natural, it does drag at times. The album soothingly overcomes her woes, not as in A Creature… where it felt as if she mourned her lack of innocence, but as if she is embracing this garnered experience, for ill or good. Consequently she will always remain a companion to me in my very darkest emotional hours as the best consoler I’ve ever had.