Laura Marling – Once I Was an Eagle

lauramarlingOnce I Was an Eagle is Laura Marling’s fourth studio album in five years. From an artist already loved by many, it neither steps up a gear nor presents the listener with something wholly new. What it does do very successfully is establish Marling as a tour de force of British talent, but one that nods sturdily in the direction of our cousins in the United States of America.

The lyrics of Once I Was an Eagle have Marling deal with her inner demons in a similar fashion to that of A Creature I Do Not Know. There are some notable differences, however. The conceptual references of a relationship gone sour that embellished her 2011 album have been replaced with a more heartfelt and sometimes painfully raw representation of the Real Marling. Within the first moments of Once I Was an Eagle she has already called for her beast to “be bad for me”, and admitted the inadequacies of her relationship skills on the humble “Breathe”.

These truly are moments. The Marling that composed abridged songs like “The Captain and the Hourglass” and “I Speak Because I Can” has been consumed by the restless author of “Night After Night” and “Alpha Shallows”. The songs on Once I Was an Eagle waver in and out with no discernible pattern. Ears prick on certain words and turns of phrase that resonate only because they’re so wise. This atmosphere is largely set by the first quarter of the album, which deliberately uses the same chord structure over and over again. As a result the songs are mercilessly difficult to separate unless you’re paying very close attention to what it is you’re listening to. It’s a treacherous path to tread, but in Marling’s case it miraculously works, and you find yourself being drawn slowly towards the speakers to catch a whiff of her genius in action.

The first break comes with single “Master Hunter”. Drawn from the same barrel as “Salinas”, it sounds alarmingly like Tom Petty ‘doing’ Bob Dylan. This is the instant in which Marling’s new found love of the States comes into play; she recently relocated to Los Angeles having declared all of her relationships in Britain “stagnant”. The marked vocal delivery that first reared its head on I Speak Because I Can has been whittled down to reveal something raw and proud, while also recapturing the beautiful clarity of Alas, I Cannot Swim. On “Master Hunter”, “Where Can I Go?” and “When Were You Happy (And How Long Has That Been)” this is paired with an Americana lick and drawl of guitar. Combine the two and you’ve got yourself a country star on your hands, yessir, and the one aspect of Once I Was an Eagle over which Marling’s British fan base may struggle.

While “Master Hunter” clears the air and starts the album proper, it also acts as the straw shoved up the camel’s arse to launch it into orbit. The songs that follow all demand praise, but “Devil’s Resting Place”, “Pray for Me” and “Love Be Brave” scream for it. They’re the kind of masterpieces artists pray for once in a lifetime, and it’s almost a crime that Marling has included them all on the same album. It certainly makes for muso head overload which perhaps explains why so few critics thus far have paid attention to the latter half of the album.

Once I Was an Eagle is more than a record; it’s a two part declaration. The first holler claims Marling’s right to the throne of British musicians, establishing her in a class of her own by drawing from the most poignant aspects of her career to date. The second claim is that Marling’s flight is not over. Her light’s not done yet, and she knows it well enough to give every ounce of energy currently available to her over to Once I Was an Eagle. This is a stunning piece of work in every sense of the word.

Release: 27th May 2013, EMI


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