Laura Marling made the following statement when announcing the release date for ‘Semper Femina’: “I started out writing Semper Femina as if a man was writing about a woman. And then I thought it’s not a man, it’s me. I don’t need to pretend it’s a man to justify the intimacy of the way I’m looking and feeling about women. It’s me looking specifically at women and feeling great empathy towards them and by proxy towards myself.”
Marling‘s sixth album release owns her unapologetic intimacy towards womankind, a refreshing approach in our current musical climate, and the result is a visceral understanding of herself and womanhood. The male gaze is easily shrugged away.
If there were concerns that her overarching thematic complexities from her creative and theoretical influences would drive away the more casual listeners, there’s not much to worry about here. Marling relates to new and old fans alike with the accessibility of lyrical hooks, such as “You want to get high? You overcome those desires before you come to me”, the attention-grabbing lyric that opens into the powerful declarations of ‘Wild Fire’. In any case, Marling doesn’t seek to make overtly clear the meaning of her songs and lyrics, but instead clear an expanse for listeners to form their own interpretations.
The album is musically stripped back into the minimalism of instrumental plucking; it’s a gradual deviation from her earlier back catalogue, but not unlike the trajectory of her recent albums. Gentle tones of ‘The Valley’ and ‘Always This Way’ place Laura Marling‘s versatile vocals into the spotlight. These are uplifted by songs such as ‘Wild Fire’ and ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ which have a classic, strong seductiveness about them. Nothing most so than the effortless yet engaging atmosphere of the stripped back bass tones and drum clicks of ‘Soothing’ which propel this track straight into the potential of great classics for years to come. Other personal favourites are found in the balanced instrumentation and lyrical engagement of ‘Next Time’, and the penultimate track ‘Nouel’ that aches with femininity and that possesses the ‘Semper Femina’ – Latin for ‘always a woman’ – of the nature of womanhood.
Marling experiments with a number of voices and techniques in this release, and the album tiptoes on the boundary of a balancing act between genres, influences and vocal accents; initially we flinch from the experimental fluctuations, but a few re-listens later and we’re warmed into familiarity. Songs like ‘Wild Once’ and ‘Nouel’ could be easily imagined sung by an older woman, and are a reminder that Marling is ahead of her years, with a voice that is still growing into its ultimate potential.
There’s plenty to explore and analyse in ‘Semper Femina’. Ultimately, it’s an album that broaches a step along the tentatively expanding path for songwriting by women, for women. The challenge then, falls not on the songwriter to portray this new world according to what we want to hear, but on us, as listeners. ‘Semper Femina’ poses an interference to the hegemonic masculinity within a culture’s subconscious and engages its audience to envision how powerful the female gaze can be.