I have to admit, it took me a couple of listens of Laura Marling’s, the twenty seven year old folk singer-songwriter and all round babe, latest album, Semper Femina, to really get my head around it. I had flashbacks to a fifteen year old me turning aghast from Marling’s third album, A Creature I Don’t Know, so very different from the previous acoustic I Speak Because I Can. Maybe some would argue that was just a naïve teen not appreciating the complexity of Marling’s compositions. But I don’t think so. Continually, and more so than any 21st century artist that I can name, Marling continues to surprise you and continues to challenge both your musical and literary ear. Semper Femina being no different, of course.
With the same finger-picking guitar and Joni Mitchell-esque vibe that Marling never fails to deliver, the album also has a more soulful edge. Tracks such as ‘Soothing’ and ‘Wild Fire’ where bass lines weave effortlessly round each other and Marling’s voice takes on that of a choral leader are what makes the album strong. Yet the sweet, more downbeat interludes from the likes of ‘Next Time’ and ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ are certainly not unwanted. Here, the production genius of Blake Mills shines through. The subtle string accompaniment in ‘The Valley’ is both beautiful and charming, working not to take over, but to compliment Marling’s husky, familiar voice.
The title echoes a line spoken by the god Mercury in Virgil’s Aenied: ‘woman is always fickle and changeable’. Yet Semper Femina roughly translates to mean ‘always a woman’. Lyrically therefore, the album explores femininity and female relationships. Marling told Fader magazine that she wanted to write “as if a man was writing about a woman. And then I thought it’s not a man, it’s me – I don’t need to pretend it’s a man to justify the intimacy of the way I’m looking and feeling about women.” The breadth of different relationships between women explored on the album is therefore large; from the exploration of what it means to be a muse in the complex ‘Nouel’ to the more loveable relationship in ‘Wild Fire’: “Of course the only part I want to read / Is about her time spent with me.”
It is perhaps fitting that this superb album was released on the week that International Woman’s Day falls. Marling’s continuous resistance to not conform to the mainstream and her obvious celebration of womanhood, makes her a fitting role model for any teenage girl growing up in a still very much male dominated society. Hell, any woman for that matter. And it is that fearlessness and determination that makes Marling an artist who will continue to inspire and touch the hearts of many, for years to come.