It seems every few years, out of England springs some female singer-songwriter that catches our attention across the Atlantic. Once it was Kate Bush, it might have been Amy Winehouse, lately it was Adele. Laura Marling is perhaps less well-known by the mainstream set than the latter, but she is a musical “indie darling” if there ever was one.
Her latest album, “Once I Was An Eagle” is, in a word, inspired. That sometimes is a good thing, but in this case, it isn’t really. Marling’s voice is like a cross between Cat Power’s velvetiness and Tori Amos’s clear wobble, but without the distinctive of either. Her seemingly carefully chosen instrumental backing sounds exactly like a Rubber Soul-era Beatles, especially the sitar section that weaves throughout much of the album's beginning. And her lyrics aim for a Bob Dylan-level of introspection and curiously appropriate metaphor, but they sometimes come off a little vague and overdone (in “Devil’s Resting Place,” “I’ve been with the devil in the devil’s resting place”). Other times, though, she gives off a level of directness and clarity that a lot of other artists shy away from in their quest for poetry. “Today I will feel something other than regret / Pass me a glass and a half-smoked cigarette / I’ve damn near got no dignity left,” she sings on “I was An Eagle.”
What’s unique about this album, at least for modern times, is that instead of being merely a combination of potential singles and filler tracks, each track flows into the next as if “Once I Was An Eagle” was just one long song and meditation on life and love, cynicism and naiveté. It’s like a single story with a troubled beginning, a weary middle, and a hopeful end. So basically it’s a way more serious, artful, less-plot driven and more meditative version of R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet” series. Yes, I went there.
99 Cent Download: “I Was An Eagle
Sounds Best When: You’ve never heard Joni Mitchell