Originally Published: Virgin Music
At the tender age of seventeen, Laura Marling made her television debut stood before a studio audience with Jools Holland. Refusing to wear the statutory make-up that is accustomed with such heavily lit occasions, Marling stared at her feet whilst the cameras candidly caught her inception into the media’s bright lights. Her rendition of ‘New Romantic’ – a tune that musically and lyrically belied her innocent age – ended with a deftly silence that resonated throughout the audience for a few awkward seconds. With her head very much hid behind her mic, her somewhat emotionless performance had managed to dismantle love, loss, and longing, rendering the crowd bereft of reaction before a unifying applause colours them with life.
The YouTube clip has amounted to a near quarter of a million hits, and she still looks as awkward as you would expect a precocious teen to be singing a ‘Dear Diary’ lament. At her age, Britney Spears was selling schoolgirl deviancy; Marling was merely imparting the lessons that she had learned from her life’s lessons thus far – subjects that were tangible to the listener who had also once been crippled by adolescent emotion.
Now twenty, Marling releases ‘I Speak Because I Can’, the follow-up to her Mercury Music Prize nominated debut album ‘Alas, I Cannot Swim’. Again, the maturation in which she imparts her folksy tales contravene her youthful demure, however, ‘I Speak…’ sees a departure from her teen-tentativeness and discomfort and, to excuse the phrase, become a woman.
‘Devil’s Spoke’ opens the album with the comforting hiss and fizz of a vinyl being set into motion, before an acoustic guitar undulates meaningfully into the forefront. The earnest clarity of her poetic vocal still remains, however, bolder in detail and intent. “I might be a part of this / Ripple on water from a lonesome drip / A fallen tree that witnessed me / I’m alone / Him and me,” she spills before the haunting and enchanting chorus: “All of this can be broken / All of this can be broken / Hold your devil by his spoke and spin him to the ground.”
There is still a certain amount of fragility in her callow intonations. ‘Made By Maid’ takes on a resonating Nick Drake thrum as lyrically she explores the responsibility of womanhood, forgiveness and blame; whereas ‘Rambling Man’, a highlight of the album, uncovers: “How naïve little me / Asking what things you have seen / You are vulnerable in your head / And you’ll scream and you’ll wail until you are dead.”
But then there is the fire that kindles Marling’s young and lively spirit: the smouldering requiem of ‘Blackberry Stone’ melts away layers of feeling as a violin weeps along to her vocal melody, her guitar punctuating every riposte to an ex-lover; the wild combustion of emotions that ignites the Joni Mtichell-esque ‘Alpha Shallows’; the acerbic solace that pulsates ‘Hope in the Air’’s inflamed heart.
In all, ‘I Speak Because I Can’ marks Marling’s coming of age. Her realisation of self, womanhood, adulthood, and the residing thoughts, feels and philosophies that plague her brooding mind. Still in the infancy of her musical career, ‘I Speak…’ is a sterling second album from a young troubadour that could already stand the test alongside a formidable lineage of quintessential English folk acts.