Another fine release from Marling, lyrically dark and sophisticated of sound.
Alex Denney 2011
Bob Dylan had barely put miles on his 23rd year when he wrote My Back Pages, his gleeful kiss-off to finger-wagging folk turning on his political idealism, its key lines: "But I was so much older then / I'm younger than that now". Laura Marling is only 21, but the Hampshire-born starlet shows no sign of reversing the ageing process with A Creature I Don’t Know, her third album which picks up where the meandering, lips-pursed folk of 2010’s I Speak Because I Can left off.
On the one hand, that means we’re in for some familiar, portentous metaphor-wielding and detours into the sort of windy country ploughed by her once-beau Marcus Mumford and his figurative offspring. On the other, she wears her furrowed brow with a grace and stoic humour well in advance of her nu-folk peers; combining the sort of winking stoicism that was once the preserve of commie-sympathising, flinty-faced menfolk with the supple, jazzy tones of idol Joni Mitchell.
The Muse is a fine and fleet-footed introduction to the one of the album’s central themes – muse as victim of the artist’s psychic vampirism and/or beastly intentions – unfolding around a jaunty, circling guitar figure and even finding time for a brief banjo solo without losing its considerable cool. I Was Just a Card strays a trifle too close to plodding mum-rock territory but Don’t Ask Me Why continues the airy, restful tone even as our protagonist is found "looking for answers in unsavoury places".
Salinas sounds like a bloated monument to the lyrical confusion at its heart ("there are no answers"), all breeze-blown acoustic and lurching, overlaid electric guitar. And The Beast is a rain-lashed monster of a tune, its descending chord sequences sinking, Rosemary’s Baby-style, into some infernal bed: "Tonight I choose the beast / Tonight he lies with me".
Night After Night is a classic, folksy pick that allows Marling’s voice to revel in its own beauty, while Sophia spends about a minute in search of a tune before hitting on the line, "I’m wounded by dust", and it’s like the curtains have been yanked open as her vocal comes flanked by a heavenly choir and softly echoing guitar line. Then it segues into full-on country territory, talk of the judgement day and all, and you’ll want to laugh but you won’t be able to; such are its author’s subtle charms.
Ending with a cathartic, skirt-swishing burst in All My Rage, A Creature... is another fine release from Marling, lyrically dark but skewing in the main towards an increasingly sunny, sophisticated sound. Her worldly-wise tone can still come over a little smug but give her time – she’ll grow younger than this yet.