sings the blues
The emotional turmoil caused by the confusing pull and drag of lust, guilt and temptation is the nuclear fission at the burning core of Laura Marling's third album.
It feels like adult fare. The sort of stuff people spend their lives sidestepping until one day they're ambushed by fate and wind up calling on agony aunts, holy men or shrinks.
Marling is 21. She's thoughtful, bookish and guarded. As a waif-like 16- year-old, she hit London and within a year she'd recorded with Noah & The Whale and had her debut album Alas, I Cannot Swim produced by her boyfriend, the group's Charlie Fink.
Distraught when she left him, Charlie wrote the entire album The First Days of Spring about their affair.
Ms Marling won awards for her next album I Speak Because I Can. An accomplished work, it features songs that echo the folk tradition, timeless and pertinent.
Like Lou Reed or Bob Dylan, Marling maintains a mystique that ensures the integrity of her songs are not compromised by facile comment. She's canny without being conniving.
"It doesn't feel like it's life-changing," she tells me, shrugging off suggestions that her new 10-song collection reflects a tectonic psychic shift.
"He knows something about me that I don't want him to know," she sings on I Was Just A Card. The track opens with a mournful brass motif that wouldn't sound out of place on a Miles Davis album. Its jazzy undertones move Marling from her acoustic folky roots to a wider Nina Simone-hued landscape.
It's not easy to track an exact narrative in these songs because Marling is adept at letting cards fall where they may. She's not afraid to allow gentle Blue-era Joni Mitchell cadences colour Don't Ask Me Why, a song addressed to "those of us who are lost and low". And confidently copes with shades of Cohen on Night After Night.
On the upbeat opening track, Marling sings of herself as "nothing but a beast, and I call you when I need to feast . . ." It's an old-school jazzy romp with snare drum played with brushes. The beast reappears on Salinas, a loping '70s-style song about "a place where the women go forever and never stop to ask why".
It's followed by the album centrepiece The Beast, an epic confessional slice of Marling originality. "Where did our love go?" she asks with chilling forensic authority. The bass slides menacingly as she reveals, "Instead I got the beast and tonight he lies with me". The band joins in and soon a squall of jagged electricity is whipped into the turbulent mix. The effect is breathtaking. The song's position in the middle of the tracklisting is intentional. "Everything that's meant to be pushed is pushed and everything that's meant to be hidden is meant to be hidden," Marling tells me. Her magic remains intact. HHHHI