‘Semper Femina’ shares its title with a tattoo on Laura Marling’s leg – translated as ‘always a woman’ it’s a suitably permanent statement, at once bold and allusive. The album itself was largely written on tour, a blur of endless travelling, hotel rooms, and soundchecks to cavernous theatres. Perhaps that’s why so much of ‘Semper Femina’ finds the songwriter burrowing inwards, an analysis of femininity and womanhood with a profoundly personal edge.
‘Nouel’ is a return to folk hues, it’s pastoral arrangement matched to haunting vocals; ‘Always This Way’ is a gritty counterpoint, the sharp-edged guitar chords biting out of the speakers. The arrangements are unfussy but never simple – the sparse yet complex rhythms on ‘Wildfire’, or the swooping strings on ‘Next Time’.
At times, ‘Semper Femina’ has the feeling of return, with ‘Wild Once’ and ‘Always This Way’ opening up a treasure trove of memories. It’s far from wistful nostalgia, though, with ‘The Valley’ musing on mistakes, regrets, and broken friendship.
‘Semper Femina’ matches Laura Marling’s personal quest to unlock facets of her identity echoing with the wider struggle to clear a space for the feminine voice within society itself. With a triumphant new album it seems that this songwriter has found a room of her own.
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