‘Song For Our Daughter’ is Laura Marling’s seventh album under her own name, and her first released in her 30s – a fact that seems hard to believe considering how mature she’s always sounded and how firmly woven into the fabric of British music she has long been. Almost exactly 10 years ago she released ‘I Speak Because I Can’, an album that she said revolved around “the responsibility of womanhood” – a bold statement from someone who had just turned 20 at the time of its release.
It is interesting to wonder what the Marling of today, a decade on, makes of her strident younger self that made that album, and perhaps ‘Song For Our Daughter’ offers a little insight. It finds Marling once again stretching her mind ahead of herself, imagining a daughter that she doesn’t yet have: “The Girl that might be lost, torn from innocence prematurely or unwittingly fragmented by forces that dominate society. I want to stand behind her and whisper in her ear all the confidences and affirmations I had found so difficult to provide myself,” she stated in the announcement of ‘Song For Our Daughter’. Accordingly, the album can be read as a book of lessons that she has learned over the last 10 years of working in a male-dominated world, sung to an imagined daughter – or a younger version of herself.
Some of these messages are plain and assertive, re-affirming the things witnessed and experienced in her years of laborious adulthood. “You’re working hard and getting on and still not getting paid,” she announces on ‘Strange Girl’; “Stay low – keep brave.” The intimate ‘Only The Strong’ similarly commands the young woman to be robust, but this time in matters of the heart: “Love is a sickness cured by time / Bruises all end up benign.”
Elsewhere she more explicitly casts herself as the mother or daughter in tales that are made more powerful through specific imagery. “I don’t know what else to say, I think I did my best / Mama’s on the phone already talking to the press,” begins ‘Blow By Blow’, the album’s fragile and heartbreaking centrepiece. This is coupled with the album’s sweeping title track, where she switches to a lower register and takes up the maternal view: “Do you remember what I said? / The book I left by your bed” – a memory so lived-in that it’s hard not to smell the scent of freshly-laundered bed sheets as you listen.
Marling’s fingerpicking is still exquisite, especially on the spare ‘Fortune’, but most of the songs here hew towards a fairly standard pop-folk gait. These are often imbued by beautifully arranged backing vocals, which add to the dynamics and the universality of Marling’s messages, and are especially effective on the heavenly ‘Only The Strong’ and the sing-song finale ‘For You’. String arrangements are constant throughout, but are never overdone, and simply add to the breathability of Marling’s songwriting. However, it seems she’s backed away from any grander or riskier instrumental choices in favour of letting her words and voice be the focal point, which does lead to a little uniformity across the album’s 10 tracks.
There might not be any break-out moments that will cause agnostics to sit up and finally pay attention, but Laura Marling didn’t make this album for them. It’s clear that this is a very meaningful album for the songwriter, and it is sure to have a great impact on many of her fans who have felt similar turmoil through their early adulthood, or are recent mothers worried for the future of their children. In those respects, ‘Song For Our Daughter’ is a powerful and resounding success, and re-affirms Marling’s position as one of our most important feminist songwriters.
Words: Rob Hakimian
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