In Review: Laura Marling - Song for Our Daughter

The storied songwriter's seventh album offers a multi-faceted listening experience - subtle and cinematic on the surface, delving into the album's thematic depths offers its richest rewards.
Posted: 2 May 2020 Words: James Kilpin

It’s easy to forget that Laura Marling is only just out of her twenties, such is the depth and quality of her storied career to date, one which featured two consecutive Mercury Prize nominations as a teenager, with a third following not long after.

Throughout that time, Marling has never been one to shy away from exploring important themes and addressing societal (often gender) norms, drawing from history, mythology and literature to do so whether that’s Homer and Margaret Atwood on second album I Speak Because I Can, John Steinbeck and Robertson Davies on A Creature I Don’t Know, or Virgil on previous record Semper Feminawhile still consistently managing to make deeply personal and engaging music.

The latest offering Song for Our Daughter takes inspiration from Maya Angelou’s ‘Letter to My Daughter’, and the title track in particular similarly addresses a fictional daughter as means to speak to the broader idea of a younger generation of women. The unflinching imagery of the second verse invokes woman’s ongoing struggle to be believed and respected, with Marling directly citing the tale of the rape and suicide of Roman noblewoman Lucretia as the influence for the line “there’s blood on the floor, maybe now you’ll believe her for sure”.

Similarly emotive and heartbreaking is the reluctant romantic cynicism of ‘Only The Strong’ – another song with a literary link, borrowing from Robert Icke’s adaptation of Mary Stuartwith the line “love is a sickness cured by time… I hope that you can change my mind” providing one of the most memorable gut punches of the album. Although “I tried to share the map with you, but you knew your way, you had your route” on ‘Hope We Meet Again’ is another strong contender.

Elsewhere, on ‘Alexandra’ Marling gives personality and agency to the titular character of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Alexandra Leaving’, allowing her to be more than simply an object of desire in the male gaze by asking what happened once she had left, while ‘Held Down’ and ‘End Of The Affair’ also speak of time being called on relationships in their own distinct ways.

Throughout Song for Our Daughter, the captivating lyricism is allowed to shine through by virtue of the understated and uncluttered composition, led by Marling’s predictably immaculate acoustic guitar and beautiful vocal delivery. But it’s subtle rather than simplistic, the comparative minimalism and sparsity often lent the air of the cinematic by luscious string arrangements, uplifting choral hums of backing vocals, an occasional flash of distorted electric guitar adding texture without being intrusive, the steady tiller of deep and brooding bass lines, and not least the gently atmospheric wail of pedal steel guitar.

The whole album is perhaps best assessed in terms of balance, not just with regards to the musicality, but also in terms of light and shade, optimism and uncertainty, the abstract and the literal, the deeply personal and the societally all-encompassing. It’s a record that rewards the first-time listener (nearly) as much as someone who delves deeper into its themes and less overt references, and above all else it sits comfortably among the best offerings we’ve heard from its immensely talented creator.

To hear more from Laura Marling, click here

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