With the release of her sixth studio album Semper Femina approaching fast, now seems a good time to take a look back at the highlights of Laura Marling’s short yet prolific career so far. From her delightful acoustic debut Alas I Cannot Swim, released when she was just 18, to 2015’s propulsive Short Movie, Marling’s style has constantly evolved, without ever losing her superb ability to write touching, insightful lyrics coupled with accessible and memorable music. To help whet the appetite for her sixth album, here are six of the best from the indie-folk queen.
Ghosts (Alas I Cannot Swim)
Still, after 9 years, her best-known song, Ghosts is perhaps the best place to start with Marling, a simple acoustic guitar-led song about lost love, it showcases her ability to write hummable tunes and get under your skin at the same time. Its delicate folk style is indicative of Alas I Cannot Swim as a whole, but the mix of freedom and pain in its refrain hinted early on at the depth Marling would bring to her music.
Failure (Alas I Cannot Swim)
Another one from Marling’s debut, Failure is a great example of the album’s enduring appeal. It is her most musically accessible, gentle album, full of great songs about Marling’s relationships with others and herself. On Failure, the titular disappointment is both a former lover and Marling herself. Flopping between self-deprecating and hopeful, the upbeat tempo and life-affirming chorus help make this one of the most memorable anthems-for-jilted-youth.
Devil’s Spoke (I Speak Because I Can)
The opening track to “the difficult second album” I Speak Because I Can, Devil’s Spoke signalled Marling’s desire to subvert expectation. Putting a much darker edge on the acoustic folk of Alas I Cannot Swim, Marling alters her voice, too, to create a bold, thrilling new style, propelled by her rapid acoustic strumming. It finds her in new lyrical ground too, moving away from the simple relationship focus of Ghosts to something much more enigmatic, a kind of dark fairy tale land, where something unknowable, but really rather brilliant, lies.
Where Can I Go? (Once I Was an Eagle)
One of the calmer, more emotional tracks on 2013’s Once I Was an Eagle, Where Can I Go? lacks the aggressive percussive propulsion of lead single Master Hunter, but finds more heart in Marling’s lyrics and voice. It starts off a soft, sad look at being lost and lonely, but as Marling’s guitar quickens, her voice lifts and the percussion builds, she becomes more defiant in the face of her struggles. The highlight of a consistently strong album.
False Hope (Short Movie)
Grappling with her less-than-perfect time living in the States, Marling produced one of her most exciting songs yet with False Hope. Driven for the first time by a pulsing electric guitar, Marling sings of her isolation in the City of Angels with some of the dark tone of Once I Was an Eagle, but recalling the catchy hooks of her earlier work too. Varying her voice wonderfully in a tighter song than lead single Short Movie, this is the track of the album.
I Feel Your Love – Director’s Cut (Short Movie – Director’s Cut)
Although it was not included on the original album, this full-band version of I Feel Your Love is the song some of us had been waiting for. Heavier, rockier and stunning live, this was when Marling fully embraced the electric thump that the original cut hinted at. Love and yearning are still here in the lyrics, but musically Marling seems a world away from the dainty finger-picking 17-year-old that the world first saw.