Total(ly) Fit: ‘I Speak Because I Can’ by Laura Marling

In Album Reviews, London and the UK on March 29, 2010 at 2:33 pm

The trouble with Laura Marling’s last album, ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’, was that it was never spoken of without reference to her youth, and thus, her potential. Outrageously, you could still do that with her new record, ‘I speak Because I Can’, out now on Virgin Records, which was recorded when she was still just 19 years old. Nevertheless, while it would be patronising to speak of Marling as a ‘young artist’, she is still young, and it shows, for good or for bad.

Undoubtedly, on her latest outing, Marling shows us a new confidence in her songwriting. The opening song ‘Devils Spoke’, is sung with a riotous vigour over her brand spanking New! Bigger! Fuller! and…Celtic sound, which evidences her recent work with Mumford and Sons (a band so fond of the hoedown you almost suspect they sleep exclusively in brothels) (edit: apologies for that). However, Marling’s record is the most fruitful production of the recent UK folk revival, largely due to her sensible melodies and sensitive vocals; it seems disappointing to say it again, but she has an extraordinary gift for someone who was not yet 20. Throughout the record you get the sense that she gave pensive thought to each line and chord, in a way her folk-fellows such as the aforementioned Mumford and Sons do not always seem to do; contemplative ambition > bluster.

Marling’s beautiful voice and controlled delivery cannot be underestimated; they are ever-strong throughout the work, and consistently give Marling’s sometimes clumsy word choice a gravitas which forces you to listen, and then listen again. She is undeniably captivating. Nevertheless, her word choice is sometimes awkward (the ungainly teenager). This is often due to Marling’s stubborn miserableness. Serious in delivery and serious in philosophy, Marling is concerned with consistency and strength; ‘let it always be known/that I was who I am’. Therefore, while she is young, it does not always feel as if she represents truly youthful feelings; joy, anticipation and wildly-frantic-affairs are never sung of, instead ‘the weak need to be led’, and it is not a plea, it is an order. Whoa.

Even so, Marling’s best talent still remains her use of evocative descriptions in love songs (not ballads). To be sure, she still misteps as many a young artist does, the line ‘ripping off each other’s clothes in a most peculiar way’ is clumsy at best and downright unskillful at worst; exploring lyrical concepts and ideas does not mean they should be used. That being said, her delicate and crisp accentuation of consonants allows her to impeccably inhabit any desperately melancholy body, and amongst the ranks of the young are the most desperately melancholic. In ‘What He Wrote’, one of the album’s highlights, she sings that ‘he cut out my tongue / there is nothing to say’, so,  ‘we write / that’s alright’. When laid out in front of you in the wretchedly explicit ‘Georgia’ typeset of this blog, Marling’s lyrical obsession with difficult love is painfully youthful, but her delivery is more powerful than all that hopeless emotion; ‘So I asked him / how he became this man’. She is aware that ‘if he had of stayed / you might understand’, he didn’t, and we won’t, but she knows.

On this record, when Marling sings, ‘I speak because I can / to anyone I trust enough to listen’ you cannot help but feel she is being ever-so-slightly-more-than-a-little disingenuous; unless she trusts the several million people worldwide who listen to her songs. In her bid for maturity (natural, not artistic), she hyped sentiment into hyperbole, and so double-crossed her freshly-dyed brunette locks; she is not yet as stable as that dark brown. Nevertheless, despite the frequent fragility of her delivery, Marling does possess a lyrical potency which should make anyone she trusts enough, glad enough, to listen. She has much much much more to say, and some phrases will be quaint, and some concerns pathetic, and some will totally fit; but at least she occupies herself with ‘clearing all the stuff out of [her] room / trying desperately to figure out what it is that makes [her] blue’. It is a fascinating journey; notice her missteps, for they are often more youthful than her lyrics, but notice too how intently you still listen. Vital folk music. Really.

Buy ‘I speak Because I Can’ here. Check her fit face here.

What He Wrote

I Speak Because I Can


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