Once an Eagle and Many Times a Star
Laura Marling first came on the scene as a precocious teenager, a pretty young thing writing intricate acoustic songs that belied her age. She released her 2008 debut, Alas I Cannot Swim, to glowing reviews—the work earned her a Mercury Prize nomination, comparisons to Joni Mitchell, and a reputation as Britain’s folk wunderkind. The album threw her into the fray of the burgeoning folk revival, and she quickly became a standout amidst the sea of copycat singer-songwriters.
It would have been easy for Marling to stay within this niche, easy to produce countless albums of delicate, beautiful, and borderline-twee tunes like “Ghosts” or “Crawled Out of the Sea”. Had she followed that path, she still would have been wise beyond her years and an exceptional talent. As it is, she chose a more challenging direction; she’s experimented with Indian influences with the Dharohar Project, grown her confidence on 2010’s wonderfully raw I Speak Because I Can, and developed her storytelling on 2012’s masterful A Creature I Don’t Know. She’s expanded her sound and revealed new depth with every release and venture.
Marling’s latest work, , Once I Was An Eagle, continues down this path of experimentation. Gone is the childlike innocence of Alas I Cannot Swim, and in its stead is a different sort of confidence, a different maturity than we’d previously encountered. Laura has loved, lost, and begun to heal in this pared down, reflective album. The layers have been removed, and what’s left feels like an authentic representation of who Marling is in this moment.
In an interview with mxdwn, she called the album a challenge, and it’s true that the work’s sixteen songs don’t feel as immediate as some of her past material. That complexity is part of what makes Once I Was An Eagle such an affecting piece, and it’s a joy to unravel the album’s characters and undertones. Marling’s voice runs the gamut from slinky and smoky to pure and bright; despite the LP’s tumultuous themes and feelings of catharsis, her voice always gives us the sense that she’s calm, collected, and in control. She’s mastered her own self, and Once I Was An Eagle depicts this process of rebirth and acceptance with sophistication and unrivaled artistry.
Though Laura Marling will likely always be described in terms of her age and remarkable maturity, Once I Was An Eagle, even more than her previous works, exists beyond years or generations. It’s a powerful portrayal of self-exploration, and a thing of beauty all its own.