We are living, we keep being told, through uncertain times. Routines have been upended, each day feeling unstable and insecure. Any hint of regularity – crucially that which is enjoyable – has become essential. Enter Laura Marling’s seventh album, ‘Song For Our Daughter’. The release is something of a surprise, a burst of novelty within the new normal. Across 10 air-tight tracks, meticulously crafted and elegantly delivered, it’s an absolute triumph.
“In light of the change to all our circumstances, I saw no reason to hold back on something that, at the very least, might entertain, and at its best, provide some sense of union,” Marling has said of the decision to release the album ahead of schedule. It’s a generous move – thinking of fans’ relief over personal rewards. The record is presented as a love letter to Marling’s imaginary daughter, but – even more than that – it’s addressed to another figure: “The Girl,” as Marling calls her. The Girl could be you and she could be me; she is every woman listening back. As Marling has said, she “might be lost, torn from innocence prematurely or unwittingly fragmented by forces that dominate society”.
Marling’s voice is as comforting and crystalline as ever, but this new release follows a departure from both her record label and management after her sixth album, 2017’s ‘Semper Femina’ (in the meantime she began a Masters degree in Psychoanalysis). This record offers astute storytelling and melancholy melodies. There is no banjo and little percussion to speak of. It is gentle and intelligent, humble and wholly kind-hearted.
‘What became of Alexandra?’ Marling asks on opening track ‘Alexandra’, immediately shifting focus away from herself and onto the lonely titular character, another woman who needs care. The artist’s affection for Leonard Cohen resurfaces, too: there’s the clear reference to Cohen’s ‘Alexandra Leaving’, but also the singer’s skill for deeply humane reflection in smoky, brooding vocals.
Marling has always seemed wise beyond her years, showing shades of Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan while carving her own space – a space now occupied by seven albums, three Mercury nominations and a Grammy nod (“Semper Femina’ was up for Best Folk Album). She ventures further into the future here, writing with piercing clarity on neglect and heartbreak. On the ethereal and hypnotically repetitive ‘Held Down’, she cuts to the core: “It’s a cruel kind of twist that you’d leave like this / Just drop my wrist and say, ‘Well – that’s us done.'”
Her lyrics have never been more thoughtful, making you lean in for fear that even a single word could go amiss. ‘Only the Strong’, ‘The End of the Affair’ and ‘Blow by Blow’ stand out for their soft strength. On the latter Marling admits, “I feel a fool and so do you / For believing it could work out / Like some things do.” Her admission of powerlessness is stark and staggering. There is a sense of romance about this album’s instrumentation, which communicates love both present and lost – swooning strings here, an aching pedal steel guitar there.
The title track plays out like a bedtime story and a life lesson. The patchwork of slow acoustics builds as strings come in, reflecting the swell of affection for another person. “You won’t be forgotten for what you had not done yet,” she sings; it’s a graceful ode to anyone making it out alive in a ruthless world. ‘Hope We Meet Again’ sees her reflect on the past while still walking bravely ahead. Some of the most stunning lines (“I tried to give you love and truth / But you’re acid-tongued, serpent-toothed’) interlace with the echoing twang of the pedal steel guitar and angelic backing vocals. This is masterful stuff.
The album closes humbly, with a demo recorded and performed by Marling and her partner. “I thank God I‘ve never met, never loved, never wanted,” she sings. The track reaches out to a higher power, imploring that we’ll all be OK.
“An album, stripped of everything that modernity and ownership does to it, is essentially a piece of me, and I’d like for you to have it,” Marling has said of ‘Song to My Daughter’. Album seven is a piece of a person we are familiar with. It might be less folky than her previous work, more guided by vital words than percussive rhythm, but it still feels cohesive and like a safe haven. The album is a balm, Marling a lifeline – and a source of stability. We’re lucky to have her.
Release date: April 10
Record label: Chrysalis/Partisan Records