Laura Marling: Once I Was an Eagle
Once I Was an Eagle is a statement of artistic maturity. But as a statement of this kind, it isn’t convincing. On the album’s second track, “I Was an Eagle,” the singer tells a former lover, “When we were in love/You were a dove/And I rose above you/And preyed.” It’s a beautiful lyric, sung by a voice of blazing talent; but as a claim, it’s also suspect. The album’s title acknowledges a loss of potency in its opening word, “Once.” Once the singer was an eagle and her lover was a dove; but the idea that she “rose above him, and preyed” is retrospective gloss. And the album – in its purest intention – wants us to realize this. And that is the success of the album: that it is not, after all, a mature statement. It is a reminder of the unwavering potency of things past to a vibrant artistic sensitivity.
Throughout Once I Was an Eagle, there is a tension between Laura Marling’s talent as a singer and a guitarist (joined together, as a maker of melodies) and her songwriting. On her three previous albums, Marling’s melodies and her lyrics have roughly been on a par. Here, there are moments where Marling’s voice is submerged by her guitar or where her melodies are undermined by a self-conscious mysticism that appears like disease in an oak tree. These moments occur when the natural liveliness of her poetry is dulled by a desire to make comment from weighty experience rather than sharp insight. On “Breathe,” the singer mentions, “screaming at the earth for what it’s done to one and all.” The line is laced with a pseudo-gravity that befits a despairing hippy. The best songs on the album come from Marling’s extraordinary lucidity, and they concern a world as near to Marling as coast is to water.