Let’s get this straight right from the start; there are no duds in the Laura Marling back catalogue. That run of albums from her debut Alas, I Cannot Swim (released when she was just 18) to fourth album Once I Was An Eagle is pure perfection, without a bad song or a questionable decision among them. She is, for me at least, a top five artists of all time contender. Since 2013’s Once I Was An Eagle she has released Short Movie (2015), Semper Femina (2017), and the more experimental collaborative album Lump (2018). All these albums, especially the latter, were really strong – with amazing songs throughout. But as Short Movie attempted to add elements of rock into her sound, and Lump added in some electronics, while Semper Femina was perhaps her least varied and interesting album so far, it did feel as if Laura was at her first musical crossroads. The top level consistency of those first four albums appeared to be on the wane.
Let me get something else straight: if almost anyone else in the world had released Semper Femina, or if it had been an album from an artist I’d just discovered, I’d have been gushing about it. But as a Laura release, I have to admit I wasn’t as captivated as usual. So when Laura brightened all of our lockdowns the week before last with the shock announcement of her latest album Song For Our Daughter I was, of course, very excited. But I was also slightly nervous.
Opener ‘Alexandra’ lessened those nerves a little bit. It already had more bite and drive than a lot of the stuff on Semper Femina. ‘Held Down’ followed, and I could feel myself really starting to relax into the album. It isn’t a standout Laura song for me, but it does have those moments that remind me why she is such an important musician for me. But it was the next two songs that really convinced me that Laura is back to her best on Song For Our Daughter. ‘Strange Girl’ picks up the pace and brings back a sense of storytelling and wit that Laura was once so well known for. The chorus of ‘I love you my strange girl/my lonely girl/my angry girl/my brave…’ is probably the moment where Laura lets loose most on the album, having fun with the music she’s putting out there. And then we’re on to ‘Only The Strong.’ This is a typical, beautiful Laura ballad – her strongest songs on pretty much every album. The gentle drumbeat and the tiny twangs of the guitar, all under an exemplary vocal performance. It’s an absolutely stunning song.
Follow that with ‘Blow by Blow’ and you know that you’re on to an absolute winner with this album. If I was to offer any criticism at all, it might be that I would’ve liked a tiny change of pace at some point in the run of songs that starts with ‘Only The Strong’ and ends with ‘Hope We Meet Again’. There is an inkling of Semper Femina’s lack of variation at this point, but with songs such as ‘Only The Strong’, ‘Blow by Blow’, and ‘The End of the Affair’ in this run, the quality is high enough for this criticism not to really matter in any meaningful way. And then the album ends with another playful, unique track in the form of ‘For You.’ A perfect way to round things off.
The one thing that makes me really sad about this album right now, though, is that I know I am not going to be in a room watching her perform it live any time soon. It’s an album that has me crying out for a gig. It is too early to say where it will end up in my ranking of her albums, but I can already guarantee that it’s moved above everything else since 2013. I regularly get the piss taken out of me by the rest of the Picky Bastards team for how often I throw around the phrase Album of the Year. So I’m not going to say it now. But what I will say is that I have definitely just found my first genuine contender. With album from the likes of Nadine Shah, Dream Wife, and Phoebe Bridgers around the corner, though, it’d be crazy for me to even think about calling it at this point.
Words by Fran Slater