Reading reviews of Laura Marling's albums can feel a bit like playing journalese bingo: get a full row of "Mumford", "Fink", "precocious" and the now-lesser spotted "MySpace" and you win a banjo, or something. Anyway. The NME office has been having little desk hoedowns to 'A Creature I Don't Know' for a month or two now, so let's see what those gimlet-eyed critics have made of Marling's third album.
Our own Priya Elan gives the record 8/10 (the same mark we gave 'I Speak Because I Can'). Whereas Marling's last record dealt in fairly standard folk tropes, Priya comments that she's moving away from simple good/bad dichotomies on album three. "We’re still in the realm of her senses, but she’s casting away the things of childhood and facing adulthood head on and clear-eyed," he writes. As a sign of her maturation as an artist, "the tales told here see Marling lying down passionately with beasts, yet turning away from the devil. She flirts with self-destruction but finds her identity and salvation in timeless goddesses." Where 'Speak…' showed there was more to Laura than just MySpace novelty, 'Creature…' sees her cementing herself as a true artist. Priya declares it "an emotional triumph. This real-life fairytale is made up of myriad difficult home truths but Marling’s hejira, her flight to freedom, makes for absolutely compelling listening. Oh, and there’s a happy, redemptive ending to boot."
Alex Denney, writing for the BBC (and moonlighting from NME) isn't quite as enamoured of the record, calling it "another fine release from Marling, lyrically dark but skewing in the main towards an increasingly sunny, sophisticated sound." Get your bingo cards out, there's an age reference on its way: "Her worldly-wise tone can still come over a little smug, but give her time - she'll grow younger than this yet."
The Observer's Kitty Empire has focused in on how, despite Marling having come to prominence at an emotionally garrulous age, we still don't really know much about her. "If Marling has appeared distant – frustratingly so at times – her actual songs give off more heat than her uptight persona suggests. Album number three doesn't get us any closer to an unguarded emotion but it does find this buttoned-up artist inhabiting her craft with ever-greater aplomb."
Maddy Costa's review of the album for The Guardian treads similar territory to Empire's review, commenting on the disconnection between Marling and her subject. "As on last year's 'I Speak Because I Can', Marling can sound curiously dispassionate, slurring the chorus of 'Don't Ask Me Why', maintaining a studied cool at the start of 'Sophia' as she murmurs: "Where I have been lately is no concern of yours." But when 'Sophia' unfurls into a glowing country romp, the distance between her and us suddenly shrinks – and the feeling is exhilarating."
As she often does, Drowned In Sound's Krystina Nellis offers a thoroughly intriguing take on Marling's occasional lack of engagement with audience and emotion, positing that she's hiding behind all these literary tropes and characters she auditions to make her points. She writes: "Marling's lyrics are well beyond just about anything else being produced by any of her contemporaries. Ludicrously literary and filled with the search for that unquantifiable missing something, ironically it feels like there's something missing here, namely Marling's own willingness to completely expose her own 'beast'.
"In the reliance on characters to relay personal thoughts, even when there's evidently nowhere else to go but inwards, it feels almost like an academic exploration of the schism between the wants of the head and the needs of the heart, rather than a personal one. Of course, there exists the possibility of it all being a big double-bluff, of insisting it's the work of characters to disguise it genuinely being personal first and foremost. But there is something slightly frustrating about listening to a singer like Marling, with all her passion and thoughtfulness, seeming to slightly hide behind her creations." Despite these misgivings, she's given it 7/10.
A fairly positive batch of reviews, then. How do you feel about the issues raised - is Marling a little too cool? Or does the poetry of her lyrics give you room to find your own emotions within her songs? Let us know in the comments.