Laura Marling - Once I Was An Eagle

Compare her to Bob Dylan all you like, but Marling here proves herself, not as a product, but as an equal.


Sometimes it feels like music is more interested in bells and whistles than it is the humble appeal of a melody. If you’re not whirling silken ribbons whilst simultaneously reverse coding the tandura through the innards of a vintage synthesiser found in the Oxfam near Gary Numan’s old house, you’re quite frankly not trying hard enough. And if, lord forbid, you’re happy with a humble guitar - that produces a thousand facets of different enchanting shades, a softly husky vocal that bites and magnifies to Goliath, before metamorphosing to the shaking David in one pause - prepare to be reduced to one painfully inadequate descriptor. Folk.

Of course, this is all a bit hyperbolic, but all the same, Laura Marling is often portrayed as a timid little figure with white-blonde hair and pretty folksy guitar melodies. If you ask some of the popular music streaming services for their two-pence worth, they’ll compare Laura Marling to Mumford & Sons, with their banjos and token blade of wheat in the corner of their mouths. They’ll suggest ‘golden oldies’ Bob Dylan and Neil Young, too, which perhaps comes closer. On ‘Once I Was An Eagle’, though, Marling proves that while she might remind people of Joni Mitchell, John Mayall, or anyone else you can shake an acoustic guitar at, she is not simply an imitative by-product. There’s that perhaps deliberate allusion to Bill Callahan’s album ‘Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle’ in the titling, and constant referencing of the past elsewhere. “So your grandmother stands to me / A woman I would be proud to be” she gently chides on ‘Once I Was An Eagle’. On ‘Master Hunter’ too, there’s a cheeky nod to Dylan; “You want a woman who will call your name? It ain’t me, babe.” In truth, though, Laura Marling’s main influence is drawn directly from her own heart and soul, and she soars like an eagle on the viewless wings of poesy.

The narrative drawn by Marling throughout is at times heart-stopping, segues and recurrent motifs creating effortless enjambment. There’s unity and cohesiveness that derails romance through careful parenthesis - “When we were in love (if we were)” - and sees Marling transform herself into sidekick to Lucifer too, claiming she’s ‘been with the devil in the devil’s resting place.’ Marling can conjure all-enveloping night through deploying one single biting lyric, and by ‘Interlude’ she is further descended into darkness than ever before.

Aged just 23, Laura Marling’s output to date is quite remarkable; she has quite literally never produced anything remotely chaffy. From the first note of her debut, she emerged a fully-formed and mature artist – never a ‘naïve little girl’. The jewel in the splendour of ‘Once I Was An Eagle’ comes in the mythology of ‘Undine’, as she stands on the seashore listening to the tempting call of the water nymph luring her farther into the pouring ocean. “Undine so sweet and pure, make me more naïve,” she yearns at first, with intricately picked guitar that lurches uneasily across the fretboards. Alas, though, Laura Marling cannot swim, Undine “cannot,” therefore, “love me”. She stands alone and steadfast on the shore, with the lapping sea snatching fruitlessly at her feet. Was there ever a more apt image for an artist with a beautifully decisive and singular vision? Laura Marling seems to be an unshakeable creature, whose art firmly belongs to herself. Compare her to Bob Dylan all you like, but to issue a bold statement, Marling here proves herself, not as a product, but as an equal. Further down the line, it seems likely that on the emergence of another deceptively quiet young songstress with lyrics that stab and capture minds, the words on everyone’s lips will be ‘this sounds like Laura Marling’ instead.

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