What does it sound like?:
Laura Marling’s sixth album has women at its centre. The word ‘he’ doesn’t appear at all; almost every song features a woman as its subject. The ‘she’ of these songs could be lovers, friends, rivals, mothers, women seen from afar, the singer herself. The songs constantly move between first and third person, and they may be the same person, or they may not.
The title Semper Femina is Latin for ‘always a woman’. She is at different times strong, vulnerable, suffering a broken love affair, feeling the rejection of a friend, taking inspiration from another woman, worrying about the planet, worrying that she is doomed to repeat the same mistakes throughout her life. She is ‘fickle and changeable’, but Marling takes that phrase from the classical Roman poet Virgil and defiantly co-opts it as a slogan for life:
You’ll be anything you choose/
Fickle and changeable are you/
And long may that continue.
Time and again Marling shows the ability of a short story writer to create a whole character, or situation in one or two lines
I know she stayed in town last night/
Didn’t get in touch
You want to get high?/
You overcome those desires/
Before you come to me
I’d like to say I could have stayed/
But she didn’t want me to
So this is certainly a record with serious intent, but it is anything but ponderous. It’s delivered with Marling’s trademark breathy voice, sometimes spoken, sometimes floating high. Her confidence and strength of voice, and her ability to get underneath and interpret her lyrics have grown immeasurably since her early records. She’s singing above often strongly rhythmic arrangements of acoustic and electric guitar, bass, drums and the occasional understated string arrangement.
Marling’s melodies tend to be straightforward and she owns the songs so much that you can’t imagine many of them being covered by others. That said, Don’t Pass Me By, Next Time, and above all Always This Way are certainly good enough to have a life beyond these recordings.
Marling’s work has evolved and deepened rather than made step changes. She hasn’t shown the same leaps on her first records that her idols Joni Mitchell did from Song to a Seagull to Court and Spark, or Bob Dylan from his first record to Highway 61 Revisited. But over nine years she has a built a consistently impressive body of work of which this record is a fine example. Who knows what she can do in the next nine? She’s capable of almost anything, and it’ll be fascinating to see.
What does it all *mean*?
‘Twenty five years and nothing to show for it
Nothing of any weight’, sings Laura Marling. This record is just one piece of evidence that means this is obviously not true in her case.
Goes well with…
The third wave of feminism
Might suit people who like…
Thoughtful, intelligent, slightly folky singer songwriters. If you like what you’ve heard before from Laura Marling you’ll like this; if you don’t this won’t convert you.