Laura Marling - 'Once I Was An Eagle'
Somewhat unfortunately, I initially didn't have much interest in this album; I’d heard Marling’s previous stuff and thought “this is nice”, but it never really struck me noticeable way. I was drawn to 'Once I Was An Eagle' after hearing the single ‘Master Hunter’. And I guess the fact that there weren’t many other notable releases at the weeks end.... But boy oh boy was my mind blown. If you’ve read any of my other recent reviews, you'll notice this could very well be an expectation thing; I’m consistently finding that I’m disappointed by the album I anticipate, while the surprise/unknown albums are probably my favourites of the year (thus far).
Before I delve into the album, I need to quickly marvel at Laura Marling's soviet-like work ethic. ‘Once I Was An Eagle’ is the 23-year-old Hampshire native’s fourth studio album, having first released ‘Alas, I Cannot Swim’ in 2008 at the age of 18. The work rate and passion shown by someone so young is pretty astounding, not to mention, that she's clearly not compromising on quality.
After the first two tracks of ‘Once I was An Eagle’, I immediately knew I’d stumbled on to something special. The complex use of niche instruments (in western music) over Marling's traditional guitars, such as sitars and African drums are used to control the mood and entire ‘aesthetic’, forcefully taking the listener on an emotional journey over the length of the album. The changing sound of the album often feels like you're being flown over a world similar, but not the same as ours, through different biomes; deserts, forests, differing weather, but the whole time, the music keeps you above it all. Just looking in.
In line with this metaphor, you can visualize the music pausing for moments in open fields, where Laura gives her most compelling, beautiful and sometimes poignant lyrics. I don’t want to throw them all at you because there are so many, but Marling is someone who uses music and lyrics to deliver a message. However, the line in the second song that probably made me realise that this was such a lyrically rich album:
“I will not be a victim of romance; I will not be victim of circumstance”
Despite this not being an ‘original’ thought or expression, the use is thought-evoking, and was one of those moments where a piece of music pulls you out of your reality and into the artists'. The moments where you start to form a relationship with the person behind the music, rather than just letting the music mindlessly pass through you. Marling's fourth album marks a stark move into a level of self-exploration that we've not yet seen from her. The extensive use of "I", and a desire to understand what what makes her her, even if she's attempting to veil these stories behind metaphors and personifications. I would say that much inspiration has been drawn from this album by Marling's move from London to LA, and how this experience has changed her - and the drastic shift her life has taken in the last 5 years.
There's some romanticism about this album; like that of William Blake in his Songs of Innocence & Songs of Experience. Where the the first half of the album sees her unsure of herself and unable to find clarity: "You asked me if I was a child once / And I said I'm not really sure". While after the Interlude, she finds herself being able to answer "I was a child once / Oh I was happy young / When all I didn't know needed doing had been done".
The maturity and seeming wisdom of Marling belies her age, and accompanied with her articulate voice and clear vision of how to create interesting pieces of music - she has made what is probably one of the best albums of 2013 (Yeah, I’m already calling it). The album reaches its greatest heights on tracks “Where Can I Go?”, “I Was An Eagle”, “Once” and “Love Be Brave”
My only slight criticism, and this is entirely down to taste, is there is a tendency for pauses to last too long, for themes to be repeated and the album itself is maybe a bit too long given the seemingly simple (albeit powerful) message behind the album. Though I’d say this is a matter of preference, rather than a criticism of ‘Once I Was An Eagle’. Also, I think interlude tracks are over-used.... they mostly feel like a waste of time.
If you’ve ever wondered what a smart and well-delivered story sounds like as a blend of folk-pop, world music and psychedelia, then Marling will not disappoint.
PS; If you would ever do anything I ask you to, even if you don't like this 'style' of music, listen to 'Where Can I Go?'