One of the leading figures in contemporary folk music, Laura Marling has finally returned in 2015 with her fifth LP ‘Short Movie’, and it’s been a long and interesting road she’s travelled since her 2008 debut ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’. On a personal note, I’ve been a big Laura Marling fan since the release of her first record and I’ve even cited it as my favourite album by a debuting artist ever, due to how it grabbed my attention and how I fell in love with each track individually. I’ll also admit on another personal note that over the years since that first album, my interests have waned and I’ve not had full investment in any of her more recent efforts since 2010’s ‘I speak because I can’, which even though it had a darker edge to it, songs like ‘Rambling Man’, ‘Blackberry Stone’ & ‘Devils Spoke’ certainly made it an interesting listen that was easy to repeat. Whereas I ended up not being able to find anything I particularly enjoyed in her third or fourth albums, despite the latter being nominated for the Mercury prize.
So when ‘Short Movie’ rolled around, I was keen to see in which direction Marling had gone and whether there was anything for me in this record. The last time we heard from her was on ‘Once I Was An Eagle’ which had a rather abstract feel to it, and I found tracks like ‘Master Hunter’ a little hard to swallow when compared to her earlier material and how very different it was. So it was a massively welcome relief on my first run through of her latest LP to find that it’s in fact the greatest compromise I could have asked for as a fan, and where compromise can be a bit of a dirty word in the music world as it eludes to selling out and diluting the content, but in this instance it’s perfect. The new songs encompass everything she introduced to us in 2008 but with a further wisdom and experience that she’s obviously gained over a whole five albums.
Some songs still maintain that abstract idea that she’s developed and I have to wonder why she insists on singing like Bob Dylan in some of her songs like she does especially on ‘Strange’. I mean, of course he’s an inspiration, there probably aren’t many singer song writers alive that wouldn’t admit to Dylan being the iconic figure that made them first pick up a guitar, and considering it’s got a hint of Joni Mitchell in it too which is another highly influential folk name, but I’m sure even Dylan would have not sang like Dylan if he could do any better. But be that as it may, I’m talking about it now right? Therefore it’s a notable point and if the worst thing I can say about her is still something worth mentioning then she’s not done bad really. The majority of songs are catchy as hell and due to a new, full band feel to it, this collection of songs has a larger feel to it. Tracks like ‘Gurdijeffs Daughter’ and ‘False Hope’ just seem to hit harder than anything I’ve heard from her before. Also the use of electric guitar is prominent here and is a major feature of tracks like ‘Don’t let me bring you down’. Her vocals are more confident and despite the obscure style on some tracks, it’s done with reassurance, confidence and flair. The title track also features electric guitar and was released as the lead single from the album despite the expletives in the chorus. The first single is one that builds and builds and is possibly the best introduction she could have given us to an entirely new album, as it begins quite subtly before crashing into a more aggressive last-minute of the song which basically says “this is Short movie, you better fucking like it”.
My favourite from the album upon completion of its first full run through is track nine, ‘Divine’. With a riff that sounds so similar to ‘All Along The Watchtower’ again by Bob Dylan (she’s obsessed) and lyrics that hold the perfect balance of sentimentality, intelligence and relate ability, this was for some reason the one that stayed with me and I’d certainly push it for third single release if she goes that far. On second listen I’m surprised that this is the one that stayed with me, but it did and I can only imagine it’s because it’s one of the more stripped back, unadventurous songs from the album. Basically, this lass from Hampshire has turned my music taste upside down and got me looking for security and tradition over interesting and ground breaking. I’ll never know why this is the case, perhaps because I loved her early work so much and want more of that. But either way, this latest release has me satisfied and I consider it a huge success. I suppose the next thing to do is to sit back and see how it’s received by the rest of the world and whether it’ll garner the same sort of acknowledgment from the award panels as she’s had in the previous seven years. Watch this space I suppose.
Words by Stuart Green (@mojo20_music)