Review: I Speak Because I Can – Laura Marling

JORDAN BICKERTON: ‘Laura Marling is clearly talented enough to warrant attention, regardless of your musical persuasion’

Joni Mitchell Laura Marling

Laura Marling’s debut album was nominated for a Mercury Music Prize, ensuring that I studiously ignored it – this annual smug-fest normally serves as a good barometer for what ‘hip’, croc-wearing forty year olds will be championing, most probably in the comfort of their local gastro pub. ‘I Speak Because I Can’ has been met with equally unanimous critical acclaim.

While the 20 year old Brit is often associated with the infuriatingly twee neo-folk assault on the charts, vociferously orchestrated by the Guardian reading classes, I have been forced to abandon my lazy preconceptions. Indeed, I feel I may actually be doing Marling a disservice in writing this review after only a couple of listens, such is the depth that characterises her second effort.

Her beguiling voice at times evokes greats such as Joni Mitchell and Nico, and although the occasional vocal tick strays dangerously close to imitation and affectation, the strength of her songs ensures that these comparisons are heartfelt. The standard singer-songwriter arrangement is fleshed out by multiple instruments, banjos and keys included, building dense and dreamy soundscapes. Against this lush backdrop, lyrics replete with a sense of nostalgia uncommon to artists of such a tender age become ever more emotive.

Early standout, ‘Rambling Man’, sports a chorus which positively revels in folk heritage, making me want to grab a buxom English rose and rush to the nearest Ceilidh. Later on, ‘Alpha Shallows’ builds into a glorious crescendo, which swells assuredly beneath the refrain “we are basic lies”. ‘Darkness Descends” provides a rare thigh-slapping moment, and I am inclined to believe that the tune is all the better for it. The album improves as it progresses, and the title track is a powerful and fitting closer, conferring a genuine sense of development.

That being said, ‘I Speak Because I Can’ isn’t entirely up my street, despite a youth misspent at Broadstairs Folk Festival (which is much better than it sounds, honest) – there is not enough variation in tone and tempo to hold my attention for the duration, resulting in something of a mid-album sag. I prefer my melancholia served with a dash more urgency. In the grand scheme of things, however, this is a minor quibble; Laura Marling is clearly talented enough to warrant attention, regardless of your musical persuasion. The fact that she is so young also suggests that she has yet to reach her peak – I for one cannot wait to see what she does with her unquestionable talent.