It would appear that Laura Marling has welcomed herself home as her new album Song For Our Daughter is a warm, golden-hued gem in a dark time from of one of Britain’s finest songwriters.
The follow-up to 2017’s Semper Femina was always going to be difficult but, somehow, Marling has managed to gather every note of what has made her a landmark artist and deliver it in an inspiringly honest new way. Song For Our Daughter is the mark of an artist truly working from within.
Marling arrived on the scene with a delicate message and a vocal that left everybody dreaming. During a period where indie-lads spilt apple sours over their trilbys, Marling appeared as if from a dream to refresh our soul with her seminal album Alas, I Cannot Swim. At only eighteen when she released her debut LP, her ethereal image would loom over her entire career.
Five albums later and Marling is now far wiser and more astute. She’s evolved from the incandescent imagery and is instead rooted in gravity. Song For Our Daughter is the first record Marling has written away from the road and it really shows. Now firmly rooted in London with her family after various location changes, it feels as though Marling has truly found her grounding. She says herself that she is “at a very comfortable place in my life, in a functioning long-term relationship.”
The change of pace has allowed Marling to gain some perspective and move away from direct confessional songwriting. “It’s really hard for me to say, but I think that lack of ‘I’ is probably there,” she says. “I’m aware of being looked at, internally, by the proximity of people around me. There’s a really good Henry Miller quote where towards the end of his life he stopped writing and started painting and said ‘I found painting to be the only medium by which I couldn’t cause people harm’. I was like ‘I feel you!’”
Instead, Marling has opened herself up to the art of storytelling. While the songs are still heavily-flecked with Marling’s empathy if not her personal life, the imagery she creates is still deeply emotive and seemingly even more relatable. Despite stepping back there are still chunks of Marling in the record’s songs
“A song like ‘Hope We Meet Again’ is a hangover of a time where I was very happily solitary travelling the world,” she explains of the confessional track. “’The End of the Affair’ is similar — the idea that love is this infinite thing that goes in every direction and it’s very powerful. And the idea of a private mourning of love is so tragic to me, something so huge that can’t be shared.” The latter being a reference to Graham Greene’s novel of the same name.
Opening track ‘Alexandra’, is another example of Marling offing her cap to other’s work. The song is a wink toward Leonard Cohen’s ‘Alexandra Leaving’ and documents her fascination with the singer’s attitudes to women. “He writes about women in such a beautiful way,” she says. “It doesn’t aggravate me that he lived the way he wanted to live. In fact, I think it’s very brave of people to live that way.”
It continues as ‘Only The Strong’ borrows a line from Robert Icke’s play Mary Stuart for which Marling wrote the music, “I did change a lot of my style of lyric writing I think since I met Robert,” she explains. “I couldn’t really say how, though it was interesting to see his playwright or director brain work with rhythm; he’s really into straight, really locked in rhyme. I’m much more into the rhythm of language now.”
On tracks such as ‘Held Down’ and ‘Blow by Blow’ Marling shows off her pop sensibilities, too. “So I was introduced to Paul McCartney at the later stage of my life,” she laughs. “I was Lennon. And I really only saw a surface level of Paul McCartney—dyed hair and Converses that I found unacceptable. But then I did the full catalogue of solo Paul McCartney stuff and saw I was obviously wrong. You realise the little things that get you, the little sentiments.” She describes ‘Blow by Blow’ then as “my little homage to Paul McCartney… I was just trying to write a bit more simple and it’s so much easier on the piano because I’m so bad at it, I’m forced to really simplify.”
Despite this, Song For Our Daughter is still rooted in Marling’s own psyche. The singer has recently been taking a course in psychoanalysis and while it is far from clinical, Marling does add expertise that previous albums were missing. Whether this comes from academic studies or a dose of world-weariness needn’t bother you, the album is fatter and more satisfying because of it.
Title track ‘Song For Our Daughter’ sees Marling address “innocence being taken away prematurely, which is a big theme in my life I think, and the idea you could arm the next generation in a way that you weren’t armed.” It’s a particularly emotive song that can be hard to ignore. ‘Fortune’ according to Marling is “one of the better songs I’ve ever written from a songwriting perspective,” the track dealing with her Mother always keeping a ‘running away fund’.
It was a track originally conceived in her kitchen in front of her Father, “No one else gets to see that process, apart from my Dad actually,” she says. “And it’s nice for people to see it happen in real time; it nearly knocked him off his seat, it was quite sweet. So it has a special place in my heart.”
But for our money, the finest moment of the album, and the one to succinctly sum it all up in a big beautiful bow, is the closing track ‘For You’. The song was recorded with a similar innocence and sees Marling’s boyfriend playing the guitar in one of those rare moments on record, a truly authentic love song, sung wonderfully and performed in Sunday morning light—it’s a thing of real beauty.
The song remains on the album in its original demo forms and it’s a theme that is carried throughout the album, Marling taking control of her vision. “I demoed everything really heavily, and re-edited loads of stuff,” she says. “So I did all of the arrangements, I knew all the musicians I wanted to work with. I mixed the record with Dom [Monks — who has engineered several Marling albums]. And all of the backing vocals on this album I did at home because I wanted no one else’s opinion.”
Despite this, the album is one of Marling’s most densely luscious—perhaps even the most ‘complete’ in her repertoire. The real trick with Song For Our Daughter is how she manages to marry this evolution of sound with her reconnection with herself.
Without doubt, Song For Our Daughter is another triumph for Marling. Released early to help soothe some souls amid the coronavirus pandemic, Marling has shared an album that, like so many sunrises on cold grey mornings, brings both colour and warmth to an otherwise clouded situation. On this album, Marling has welcomed herself home and now she’s opened the doors to us too.
Laura Marling’s Song For Our Daughter arrives April 10th via Chrysalis/Partisan Records