Another fine release from Marling, lyrically dark and sophisticated of sound.
Alex Denney 2011-09-09
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.