Given the fact the Laura Marling is a mere 23 years of age, her opus of work is certainly impressive. No one can accuse her of being underachieving; four albums in six years is a mean feat for any singer-songwriter, something which is only intensified by the quality of her efforts, all of which have been critically acclaimed, with her debut album – Alas, I Cannot Swim – being nominated for the 2008 Mercury Prize.
Once I Was An Eagle, the fourth album to her name, is her most accomplished yet. Easing us in is the delectable Take The Night Off, the song managing to be subtle despite its commanding drum beat, which calls the listener to attention. The beat of the song eases seamlessly into the resolute croons of ‘I will not be a victim of romance, I will not be a victim of circumstance’ in I Was An Eagle – presumably the track which influenced the title of the album. The following two songs – You Know and Breathe – are of similar ilk, but what truly makes this sequence outstanding is how the four songs may not even be considered separately at all; were it not for the names of the tracks changing, the listener would be none the wiser. The seamless nature of this songs has a novel sentiment which, over 17 minutes, immerses the listener into the ebb and flow of the tracks, slowly building and abating in intensity in Breathe, before plunging foot-first into Master Hunter.
As the first single taken from the album, Master Hunter is positively sprightly comparison to the sombre four song assault that preceded it, and serves as a welcome respite from heartbreak. Here Marling sings as if she is sardonically amused by her own lyrics, declaring ‘You want a woman who will call your name? It ain’t me babe’. Evidently, this marks the introduction of a tougher Marling, which is only reinforced in her stating ‘I am a master hunter; I cured by skin, now nothing gets in’, in the opening lyrics of the aforementioned song.
Lyrically, Marling manages to sound positively bitter in the vast majority of the album, though there is an underlying self-reliance and determination in her words and delivery that enforces her perseverance post-heartbreak. The relationships dealt with within the album play out – with prior knowledge – like tabloid fodder, for just the smallest amount of digging on the Internet reveals her previous relationships with Noah And The Wale’s Charlie Fink and one Marcus Mumford. If anything, such prior knowledge almost offers an intrusion that you wish was not there, as on the more personal songs, one cannot help but read into the former liaisons of her private life. In instance of this, Once sounds positively wounding, with Marling sounding her most vulnerable when singing the chorus of ‘Once is enough to break you, once is enough to make you think twice about laying your love out on the line’. Aside from such fragility, Marling’s delivery of her songs is of captivating intensity, especially in her mythic, fable-like tellings of Undine and Devil’s Resting Place where, channeling the characters of her songs, her voice conveys the nature of a woman wise beyond her years.
Of course, it is the manner in which Marling oozes maturity that forever makes her captivating; it is easy to forget her youth, for she comes across as neither young nor naive. Her prowess is heightened by the claim that Once I Was An Eagle was complete in ten days, with Marling recording vocals and guitars live in a single take, on just one day, and it is perhaps this quick turnover that lends the album its fluidity, emotion, and timeless essence. The album was clearly a project of catharsis for the BRIT and NME award winning songstress, and exudes emotional rawness, the songs betraying her perpetual loss in love yet fortifying her zealous temperament. However, it is the final track, Saved These Words, that switches the charge of the album, which – despite beginning in a sullen manner – slowly builds into the euphoria of the singer shirking the weight of the past, crying the lyrics ‘You weren’t my curse, and thank you naivety for failing me again – he was my next verse!’.
Marling is newborn, rising as a phoenix from the ashes of her heartbreak.
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