Remember in school there was that always that one kid who would top the class every single time? After a while it got a bit, well, boring.
In a very coarse way, the music world’s equivalent of that kid is Laura Marling. A constant over-achiever, everything she produces sings with a maturity and an accomplishment that few can even dream of at such a tender age.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Semper Femina is another excellent effort to add to her repertoire. The thing is, judging by the high Marling standards, it’s not very surprising. Instead it feels very much like “oh, quelle surprise” in the face of a class she’s topped many, many times before.
But then, where do you go when you’re Laura Marling? Other genres would seem grossly ill-fit, and deviating from the norm would alienate her solid fanbase. Instead she adds little flourishes, like wistful strings on opener Soothing, or a Dylan-esque inflection on Wild Fire. Even though she sings “are you getting away from who you’re trying to be?”, she’s never felt more at home or at peace.
And yet, where Marling succeeds is in these small moments, in her ability to turn even her own back catalogue into something fresh. Indeed, songs like The Valley see her more uplifted than ever before, and even when she’s clouding her philosophical musings with folk guitar, it seems much more accessible than her previous album(s).
Is Marling finally bridging the gap between commerce and art? If she is, it certainly doesn’t seem like a conscious effort. Instead it once again feels like a woman carving her own path, an auteur whose quotation of Virgil feels like an afterthought to her own personality. Semper Femina? More like semper Marling, and that’s the very least we can ask from a modern British great like her.