Laura Marling has described her seventh solo album as a kind of conceptual work. Song for Our Daughter, she says, is about “trauma and an enduring quest to understand what it is to be a woman in this society”. The songs are written to an imaginary child, offering her “all the confidences and affirmations I found so difficult to provide myself”. It has also turned up months earlier than expected. Scheduled for release in August – the beginning of the annual three-month season when albums by major artists traditionally appear – it has been brought forward. “In light of the change to all our circumstances,” Marling wrote on Instagram, “ I saw no reason to hold back on something that, at the very least, might entertain, and, at its best, provide some union.”
However altruistic her intention, it’s quite a canny move: a lot of people have a lot of time on their hands right now, which may cause them to focus more intently on a singer’s work. Yet there is always the chance the opposite may happen. These are, as you can hardly have failed to notice, extraordinary, unprecedented times. There is no escape from what’s going on in the outside world: to release an album now, an artist would have to be pretty confident they’d made something capable of cutting through the constant roar of news about the terrifying global crisis; something capable of subverting our natural inclination to react by turning to stuff we already know and love and find comforting. But a lack of confidence has never been Laura Marling’s undoing: as so-called “sensitive” singer-songwriters go, she always cuts a remarkably robust figure. “I have not a fuck to give,” she snaps on opener Alexandra, and all the contents of Song for Our Daughter are distinctly less gooey and self-absorbed than an album offering advice to an imaginary unborn child might be in less assured hands.
Marling is still wont to change her accent with the frequency that some singer-songwriters change plectrums. Indeed, she sometimes changes accent in the middle of a song, as on Hope We Meet Again, where she keeps dipping out of the mid-Atlantic twang that’s presumably necessary if you’re going to write songs with words such as “highway” and “momma” in them, into the kind of cut-glass RP you might expect from someone who comes from Berkshire. The first song that lyrically fits with the advice-to-an-imaginary-child concept, Strange Girl, finds Marling singing in the Dylan-derived sneer she deployed on Master Hunter, from her album Once I Was an Eagle, with what appears to be a little of mid-70s Lou Reed’s patent brand of bored contempt stirred in. Which is certainly a bracing way of delivering maternal counsel.
In fact, it doesn’t sound much like maternal counsel at all, more like Marling talking about her own past with an appealing roll of the eyes: “Build yourself a garden and have something to attend / Cut off all relations because you couldn’t stand your friends / Oh girl, please – don’t bullshit me.” Certainly, it’s more successful than the title track, where the emotions she summons when imagining her daughter in some pretty grim situations – “blood on the floor”, “with your clothes on the floor, taking your advice from an old, balding bore” – tend to nothing sharper than sighing, well-I-tried-to-warn-you sadness. It’s a song written by someone trying to picture what it’s like being a parent, and not quite pulling said picture into focus.
That said, the title track is extraordinarily beautiful, a quality it shares with the rest of Song for Our Daughter. One of the album’s musical touchstones was apparently Paul McCartney’s 70s albums, and whatever else you think about post-Beatles Macca, you’d have a hard time arguing he was stingy with the tunes. And so it is here. The piano-led Blow By Blow, the gentle strum of For You, and the feedback-flecked Held Down are all lavished with gorgeous, effortless-seeming melodies.
The effect is heightened by the production. It’s a highly polished piece of work, big on rich string arrangements and intricate harmony vocals. There’s a particularly striking moment when a swirl of voices – all Marling’s, multi-tracked to infinity – rises up to underpin the line “I love you, goodbye”, on The End of the Affair. But it’s recorded in a way that creates a live feel, the lack of echo giving the illusion that Marling and her band are in close proximity to the listener. The effect is impressively punchy on Strange Girl, but on the songs that fill the album’s second half, which are largely reliant on vocals and fingerpicked guitar, the production conjures a warm, fresh intimacy that feels welcome in a world of Zoom meetings and FaceTime catch-ups. Perhaps now is the perfect moment to release it after all.
This week Alexis listened to
Jon Brooks - Fonn
Electronic auteur Jon Brooks’s new album How to Get Spring is pastoral and wistful: sonic lushness spiked with an aching hint of melancholy.