Laura Marling - Once I Was An Eagle (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
IN A career already marked by countless plaudits and acclaim, Laura Marling continues to raise her own high standards with new album Once I Was An Eagle.
Comprised of a mighty 16 songs, the opening four of which were reportedly recorded ‘off the cuff’ and which roll into one another, this is an ambitious, confident work from an artist clearly on the top of her game.
Musically, there are some great compositions and a richness of sound that’s often quite thrilling and surprisingly robust. Lyrically, meanwhile, there’s plenty to contemplate as Marling continues to examine life and relationships and the motivating factors of both.
If the aforementioned opening four songs perhaps provide the album’s absolute highlight, there’s still plenty to savour.
But first things first… let’s start at the beginning. Take The Night Off builds from a quietly soothing set of vocals into something more vibrant and folk-rockish by virtue of the guitars that almost explode around the two and a half minute mark.
It’s the sort of tone shift that forces you to sit up and take notice and which sounds great. And it carries the song forward into the equally enchanting I Was An Eagle, in which Marling declares “I want to be a victim of romance, I want to be a victim of circumstance” before delivering those guitar bursts once again. Such is the seamless transition from song to song, however, you probably won’t realise you’re listening to a new song for some time.
You Know, the third song in that sequence, is a quieter moment, relying less on the tempo shifts as it examines the nature of intelligence and what can be learned from life with experience, but it does build towards a finale that allows the song to effortlessly slide into Breathe, another highlight, which again delivers some thrilling guitar and sitar work.
Master Hunter maintains the momentum of the first four songs, opening almost mid-instrumental and coming over all bluesy (Marling’s vocals have a smoky, dusky feel that are quite intoxicating), while Little Love Caster strips things right back down to a quietly thrilling acoustic guitar and some atmospheric vocals. It’s another highlight in the way that it gives those guitars a lot of room to breathe and work their magic, while placing Marling in a wistful, almost rueful mood and slowly drawing in some violins for extra embellishment. It’s quietly cinematic.
Elsewhere, Where Can I Go? thrives on its mix of guitars and hammond organs, building to a rousing finale that is beautifully realised instrumentally, Once resonates with its gentle simplicity and learnt lessons, and Little Bird builds from a sparse, almost sorrowful opening into a soaring epic that contains some of the lushest instrumental arrangements on the LP.
Indeed, it’s fair to say that Marling seldom puts a foot wrong throughout this latest collection of songs, combining moments that thrill with those of subtle beauty, and a lyrical intelligence to keep you thinking about what she has to say long after each track has finished.
It’s little wonder that critics everywhere are raving. This is one of the albums of the year and yet another impressive benchmark for Marling.
Download picks: Take The Night Off, Once I Was An Eagle, Breathe, Master Hunter, Little Love Caster, Where Can I Go?