Laura Marling: Semper Femina
Laura Marling had the words semper femina tattooed on her leg when she was 21. It means “always woman”, and is taken from a line by Virgil which in full translates as “fickle and changeable always is woman.” Six years on, she has embraced the significance of those words again on her sixth album.
Though her last two albums have certainly been eclectic and sprawling, in reality Marling has been anything but fickle and changeable. Both her and her body of work displays consistent growth, always evolution rather than revolution, as evidenced by her foray into self-producing on album five and now her own label for Semper Femina.
And this process may have brought her to her most realised and cohesive set of songs yet. From the sparse groove and rich bass of ‘Soothing’, the album is confident and relaxed in its relative musical simplicity. The songs are formed of few elements, with their beautifully delicate guitars, warm bass lines, quietly interesting beats and subtle strings all recalling Nick Drake at his best. If comforting is a fair way to describe the album as a whole, that doesn’t speak to the music’s most captivating flashpoints, such as fuzzy crescendo of ‘Next Time’ and the bluesy twangy solo of ‘Nothing, Not Nearly’.
This bare essentials approach has been intentionally arranged to elevate the album’s real focus, its lyrics. Marling set out to write an album about women from a man’s perspective, before embracing the validity of her own reflections. Her tales deal with oppressive homes on (“I think your mama’s kinda sad. And your papa’s kinda mean”), oppressive relationships (“Can you love me if I put up a fight?”) and regret (“25 years, nothing to show for it”). On ‘Always This Way’, she sings: “Lately I wonder if all my pondering’s taken up too much ground”, a lyric taken almost verbatim from ‘Sophia’ off A Creature I Don’t Know, the album released the same year she got the tattoo.
Like the tattoo, this album feels significant, a milestone displaying a new level of confidence and comfort in her own skin, and belief in her own ability. At 21 she may have been confident enough in those words to put them on her, but at 27 she is ready to share them with the world.