For months the public has been teased with a variety of singles from Laura Marling’s much anticipated Semper Femina. After mounting anticipation, it has arrived, and shattered every expectation.
Written during a self-confessed ‘masculine’ time in Marling’s life, the opening track ‘Soothing’ is just that. It is strikingly dissimilar to the singles released so far, and to Marling’s previous work. It is pared down, with blood-thumping percussion. It whets the appetite for Marling’s introspective work, whose title translates to ‘Always Woman’.
But the album isn’t navel gazing. Marling examines female relationships with other women, particularly on second track ‘The Valley’. Her voice slips and slides over the narrative arch of a friendship lost. Marling tackles a very complex theme with poignant lyrics – wondering and ruminating all set to sweet harmonies, not doused in melodrama. This moves seamlessly into previously released ‘Wild Fire’, a more classic Marling-sounding track, with her spoken word vocals and striking visual imagery.
Each song examines a piece of the female psyche – of what femininity means – and while it is a clearly personal journey for Marling, the whole album is a touchstone for womanhood on a bigger scale.
‘Don’t Pass Me By’ has a hint of classic Americana-psychedelia with its warbling, distorted guitar and its disjointed final forty five seconds. ‘Always This Way’ is a similar exploration as ‘The Valley’, but with a darker edge, whereas ‘Wild Once’ explores the more masculine side of Marling’s personality, which is at the same time “tender and innocent”. This dichotomy is clear in her stark lyricism, which hits at the heart of a slew of political tensions at the moment – women exist, and have rights, without having to be someone else’s daughter or aunt.
The unflinching honesty of ‘Next Time’ teases out the insecurity and self-doubt that comes with self-examination. Marling’s lyrics are, as ever, complex within their simplicity, which is only heightened by the soft constant plucking guitar.
Penultimate ‘Nouel’ is perhaps the least straightforward lyrically, but it too is an exploration of being female. It is also the track that gives us the context for the album’s title: it is optimistic and melancholy, fickle and changeable, just like woman.
‘Nothing Not Nearly’ closes out this wondrous musical exploration into the heart of femininity with abrasive electric guitar and Marling’s distinct sing-song conversational lyrics, and is perhaps an archetypal Marling track. It ties together the wandering of both her internal examinations and the sonic journey of the album which is, wholly, a cohesive and well curated piece.
The stand out track is ‘Wild Fire’ for its vocal strength, and ‘Soothing’ for its atypical sound. But the album as a whole is a joy to listen to, and Marling has put her finger on the pulse of something beautiful. Once you start listening to Semper Femina, it’s hard to stop.
Semper Femina is out 10 March. Pre-order here.