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An Evolving Creature
on 1 October 2011
I remember at the time of her emergence, arriving with the sweetest of voices, with the most interesting of tales to tell, it seemed like a missed opportunity to call Laura Marling's debut anything but perfect. Of course, it wasn't. But this was an artist with lightyears ahead, harboring such visible talent that your average critic might've felt required to champion the album with a smattering of hyperbole, just to nudge forward the success she so promised. But to give Alas I Cannot Swim a lukewarm reception would have been a wise decision at the time. She had room to grow - she wasn't mistaken otherwise - and whilst we were impressed with her initial rise, most if not all of us waited with baited breath for whatever came next.
It seems odd, considering how much we expected of Laura Marling, that her inevitable growth has been even more colossal and rapid than ever imagined. She no longer recalls waking up on grubby benches after lengthy, reckless nights; she's forgotten about the boy who would tap at her window, too. This artist has evolved into a songwriter of almost intimidating confidence and quality. She has a restless, creative drive and this has never been as evident as on A Creature I Don't Know. Throughout, she's showcasing a previously withdrawn wealth of ideas; `The Beast', the record's obvious centerpiece, is powerful and to the point; opener `The Muse' has a almost jazz-like vibrancy as each backing member bounces their instrumental invention against one another and `My Friends' is rare in that lyrically, it sounds as if Marling is almost content - a contrast to the typically dark themes which dominate her previous full-length, I Speak Because I Can. So indeed, she continues to surprise the listener adding to an already extensive list of skills.
But in maturing and in experimenting, there's a recurring, dreadful sense that she's tossing back her initial appeal without so much as a second glance. We're offered small portions of the sweetness, the charm and the naivety, so prominent on early work, through `Sophia''s lulled, light-toned verses. `Night After Night', too - easily the most eye-opening song on the album - shows Marling at her most hurt and vulnerable. The point that's been driven home here, is that we've all heard the voice become more ragged and we've seen the content of her songs evolve into more profound beings and yet, with added invention and smart, show-off poise, there's a danger that we're becoming alienated.
No question: Laura Marling has a backbone, now. She's a universally applauded artist, with Brit Awards, Mercury Nominations and an adoring flock of fans to turn to if ever she requires validation. A Creature I Don't Know won't be remarked upon as her finest work in years to come, however. There's a balance required: This woman is becoming more ingenious by the day - for this she should, and will, be recognised for. But sitting atop of this album is the stark and frustrating fact that these songs, as commendable as they are, simply aren't as alluring as those on previous works. The balance will be reached and Marling will create her masterpiece - we should have little doubt of this. But A Creature I Don't Know, far from being a shortcoming, remains nothing but an additional testament to her incredible growth. It's a timely, perfectly-slotting piece in a trilogy of introductory albums, helping to announce this special artist and all of her frenzied, fantastic intentions for the future.