Laura Marling's first two albums marked her as one of the best new talents in British music. Her latest won't harm her reputation but won't greatly add to it either.
'A Creature I Don't Know' lacks the abundant charm and enthusiasm of 'Alas I Cannot Swim' and it lacks the dark, deep brooding longings of 'I Speak Because I Can'. But worst of all, too often it lacks the tunes. Too many of the tracks fail to cohere or gel. Much of the first half the album is interesting but, in the end, unsatisfying.
Marling experiments with an american accent (not wholly convincingly) on some of the tracks and the production is sometimes cranked up. The results sound a little like Catherine Feeny at times or even P J Harvey. It feels polished, but not authentically like Marling.
It is in the second half of the album that it suddenly picks up: 'My Friends', 'Sophia' and 'All My Rage' surge with the passion, conviction and simple songwriting ability that made Marling's first two albums such joys. It is as if she as rediscovered confidence in her own voice (both literally, because she sings in her own accent, and metaphorically, because these sound like her work, not the influences of others).
Marling was to have produced her third album at the end of 2010 but put it back, unsatisfied with what she had. That troubled birth shows in the end product, I suspect. Even off form, however, Laura Marling remains ceaselessly listenable to and one of our most promising talents.