The Creature We’ve Come to Know
Laura Marling began her 2011 Brit Award acceptance speech with an introduction. Heralded on stage by Boy George, the shy 21-year old squeaked “Hello, I’m Laura” before thanking her fans and walking off in stunned silence. She did scoop the title of Best Female Solo Artist from megastar Cheryl Cole—so the shock was understandable.
If the British public didn’t know Laura’s name then, they certainly do now. The petite songwriter seems to have come to that realization as well, as last year’s A Creature I Don’t Know is her most confident album yet. Though still marked by the world-weariness that made her stand out at sixteen, this third offering is assertive, complex, and unabashedly experimental. The album affirms those long-time comparisons to Joni Mitchell—but, like Joni, Laura doesn’t stick to one clear style. lt covers all sorts of terrain, from jazzy opener “The Muse” to the Ryan Adams-esque “Sophia.” The delicately medieval “Rest In the Bed” and expansive “Don’t Ask Me Why” are perhaps the closest links to previous album I Speak Because I Can, but even these seem like the product of new self-assuredness.
Sometimes, however, that confidence and complexity makes the album feel a bit detached. Laura has always played around with different perspectives (as far back as Alas I Cannot Swim‘s “Dora”), but these latest fictional characters feel less connected to the songwriter than the heroines she’s featured previously. The key exception to this is “Salinas,” a tale of John Steinbeck’s third wife, and arguably the album’s emotional apex (at least one of them). It’s not that A Creature I Don’t Know isn’t full of passion, it just doesn’t quite strike the emotional chord of its predecessor.
That being said, though, the album presents an artist who’s grown into herself. She’s less vulnerable and more mature, unafraid to delve into new parts of her psyche and style. A Creature I Don’t Know certainly doesn’t reveal all, but it shows us a clear progression—Laura has arrived, and needs no introduction.