She rewrote the rulebook when it came to what British women in pop music were supposed to be
It was a decade ago this month that one of the most mind-blowing artists of this generation released her astonishing debut album and, frankly, I’m still not over it. Laura Marling’s sublime ‘Alas, I Cannot Swim’ came out just three days after the songwriter turned 18, and it announced the arrival of a very singular talent. Though already known as a sometime member of Noah And The Whale, a collaborator with The Rakes, a woman with Mumford & Sons as a backing band and an artist who wasn’t allowed into her own gigs because she was too young, Marling and her record eclipsed all that had come before. It wasn’t just her age and precociousness that made people take notice; it was the moody experimentalism that she brought to the classic sound of British folk music. In the wake of the ultra-laddish second wave of Britpop, with The Kooks, Kaiser Chiefs and Babyshambles leading the tight-jeaned charge, Laura Marling’s music offered a more intimate kind of emotional catharsis.
Songs such as ‘My Manic And I’, ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Night Terror’ channelled the raw but delicate power of Joni Mitchell and popped it into the mind of a well-to-do teenager from Hampshire. But despite her clipped, Head Girl vocals, these weren’t comfortable, nice acoustic songs. Sure, they were beautiful, but they were also unsettling and eerie. Marling wasn’t making sweet, mollifying music but challenging the expectations of young female singer-songwriters. Standing shoulder to shoulder with Kate Nash, Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse, she was rewriting the rulebook when it came to what British women in pop music were supposed to be.
Six albums and 10 years later, and Marling has more than lived up to the promise laid down by that first record. Last year’s ‘Semper Femina’ is a bold record but one that’s every bit as left-of-centre as her debut, picking apart the way women see other women with sharp intelligence and a burning fire. Like all the best artists, there’s so much more to her than the music, too. We get bright flashes of her character in her excellent Reversal Of The Muse podcast, which sees her in conversation with a collection of excellent women including Haim, Dolly Parton and producer Catherine Marks, discussing the role of femininity in creativity. Pop an episode on now and bask in the glory of Laura Marling and her brilliant mind.