Laura Marling: “Semper Femina” Album Review

Written By: Anthony Hamilton

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You’d want to be a woman, listening to Semper Femina. Laura Marling’s 2017 album doesn’t belong to women though. You might accidentally call it a feminist album or even a coming-out album but each of these would only be incidental to what it really is. Semper Femina is a purely Laura Marling album and it belongs to her as rightfully as any of her five preceding albums have.

Her directorial debut, the music video for “Soothing,” premiered in November of last year to promise an intimate album. Two latex clad women writhe around one another in bed, sweetly mimicking the dual electric bass line while a sweeping string section and some conservatively dressed onlookers wash the scene in Victorian traditionalism. Marling’s inherently tender vocals shift towards defiance, singing the last lines of the song “You can’t come in- you don’t live here anymore” and the two women in bed hold each other securely in spite of the gaze of their onlookers.

The album’s secondary music video, for “Next Time” follows with similar motifs: ballet and the same sapphire ribbon; white cotton bed-sheets surrounded by flowers. “Next Time,” however has an entirely lighter, pastoral quality to it than “Soothing.” Acoustic guitar plods along and Marling’s comfortable refrain of “It feels like..” is daintily embellished by harp and strings throughout.

These sister tracks diametrically outline the album, allowing for a range from sweet and sentimental to electrically defiant. Surprisingly, the strength of the album lies more in its softer side; tracks with heavier percussion and amplified instruments, such as “Don’t Pass Me By” and “Nothing, Not Nearly” somewhat muddle Marling’s sobering intimacy.

On her acoustic tracks, such as “Nouel,” “Always This Way,” and “The Valley,” the singer invites listeners to love women as seriously as she does. “Nouel,” as a character, all at once, is an alter-ego, a lover, and a hero for Laura Marling. The album’s title is derived from a brief, powerful line nestled neatly in this chorus: “Semper femina (latin for ‘always woman’) – so am I.”

At the highest point of this album stands “Wild Once.” Marling delivers a semi-spoken-word first verse reflecting on the passionate spirit that lies at the heart of every person. If “Nouel” and “The Valley” reveal the singer’s love for women, “Wild Once” reveals that same love with greater universality. After delivering three endearing choruses, Laura Marling arrives at the album’s crown jewel: her vocals and acoustic guitar share a brief chromatic melody when she sings “There is something just beneath- something shy and hard to see.”

Laura Marling’s greatest shortcoming in her attempt to expand her sonic horizons on this album has nothing to do with any kind of creative ineptitude on her part. In fact, she clearly demonstrates her ability to navigate those larger sounds on the album’s anomalously slick opening track, “Soothing.” However, Marling ultimately pigeonholes herself by consistently releasing stunning “nu-folk” tracks rather than releasing an entirely iconoclastic album. Walking this fine line between reinvention and familiarity, she certainly doesn’t disappoint with Semper Femina.