Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know
Laura Marling has been leading up to this moment ever since she released 'New Romantic' in 2007. Wise beyond her years even back then, her voyage to this particular place in time has been steeped in a succession of remarkable songs and two exceptional albums, Alas I Cannot Swim and I Speak Because I Can. Her songs are deeply personal. Quiet and diffident in public she is not afraid of wearing her heart on her sleeve on record. And with each new album she bravely, brazenly, takes one giant step further.
Her previous albums are testaments to the British “Nu-folk” movement that she was such a significant part of, along with Noah and the Whale and Mumford and Sons, acts who left their mark on her sound. With A Creature I Don’t Know she has moved away from that touchy-feely folky scene and branched out on her own. Once again with Ethan Johns at the helm, Marling has crafted a breathtaking collection of songs that are as astounding as anything she has ever done. With the risk of the purists screaming “Judas!”, Marling has also delivered her bravest music to date; a great risk indeed, but one that has paid off in spades.
There have always been those comparisons to Joni Mitchell but the influence is particularly evident here. The jazz infusion in opening track 'The Muse' and the wonderful vocal acrobatics throughout the album feels as if Marling is for once really enjoying her incredible voice and the marvelous tricks it can play. Yet there are also elements of early Neil Young, a darkness and a brooding wrapped either in country-tinged harmonies or a cacophony of electric guitars that can be felt in songs like 'Salinas', 'My Friends' and 'The Beast' - the fervent acoustic strumming and the lyrics shaping and distorting themselves around the music.
Disregarding events in the outside world, Marling’s songs speak of relationships and that secret hidden side, that “creature”, we thought we had kept under wraps. There are references to “the beast”: sometimes it is Marling herself, as with 'The Muse': “Don't you be scared of me / I'm nothing but the beast / And I'll call on you when I need to feast.” At other times it is a lover (and nemesis), as in the album’s crowning glory 'The Beast', perhaps the most remarkable thing Marling has ever written. As with earlier songs, like 'Night Terror' and 'Alpha Shadows', 'The Beast' is all about the diverse aspects of a relationship - love and lust, trust and betrayal, desire and hatred. The song is terrifying in its intensity. Starting off with a subdued and detached Marling, the full force of the song soon erupts like a gale-force storm. That passion and intensity that had always been hinted at but repressed in her previous work is finally set free, like a wild animal that you know will never be caged again: “Put your eyes away / If you can't bear to see your old lady laying down next to the beast / Tonight he lies with me.”
'Night After Night', with just Marling and an acoustic guitar and what could well be her most beautiful vocal performance, follows logically after the turmoils of 'The Beast'. Here it is. The aftermath, the reckoning of the grief and torment that had gone on before: "Darling I loved you / I long to become you / And know what it is that you feel / We dance the sorrow."
The album ends with a flourish - 'Rest In The Bed', 'Sophia' and 'All My Rage'. Marling’s work has always been good, even great, but here she has achieved a sophistication and maturity that other artists with twice her years would kill for. The first is haunting and beautiful with a chorus of voices shadowing the song like sirens luring poor sailors to their doom. 'Sophia' begins with a touch of a south of the border feel until it flowers into a joyous, glorious full-band spectacle. Last it is the oddity that is 'All My Rage' which feels as if it were born deep within the Appalachians. The song is a celebration of banjos, guitars, organ and a choir of backing-singers with Marling and her magnificent voice taking center stage: “Oh cover me up, I'm pale as night / With a mind so dark and skin so white / Is this the devil having fun? / I'd tip my cap to the raging sun.”
With A Creature I Don't Know Marling delves deep into the mysteries of the human heart, the power and terror, the beauty and horror that such passion can create. The creature resides in all of of us and its force is both beautiful and terrible. By laying her heart bare for all to see Laura Marling proves that she is not only one of the greatest artists of her generation but also one of the bravest.