Hampshire’s travelling troubadour Laura Marling returns with her greatly anticipated fifth studio album Short Movie on 23rd March 2015. Following her move to LA a few years back and the success of 2013’s Once I Was an Eagle, Laura reputedly came close to quitting music altogether, scrapping the majority of the songs she had at the time, written for her next album. Speaking to the Guardian earlier this year, She admitted being in a bad place emotionally, needing to “figure out whether music was a justifiable way of living” and later admitting to NME that her ego got in the way, but she soon realised how lucky she really was to be able to do this for a living. Though we came close to losing her talents, it was an absolutely worthwhile journey of self discovery.
With Short Movie Laura has reinvented herself, bringing a newer, more confident sound to the fray. Every track still oozes the poetic and musical genius we have grown to love and enjoy, but the album is more sentimental and introspective than her seasoned fans will be used to. There is a moment, on the first listen, as Laura’s voice follows the intricacies of her guitar riff on Walk Alone that you get the feeling she teeters awkwardly on the upper edge of her vocal range, but on later listens you realise the brilliance of it. Her voice almost breaking carries the feeling of loneliness she was obviously experiencing during writing the song perfectly and tugs the heart strings of anyone who has shared this feeling before.
She has drawn on something new and the product is electric, in more ways than one. Much like her earlier collaborators Mumford & Sons, have done recently, she has branched into using electric guitar and bolstering her sound with more strings and undeniably American influences. This is evident on False Hope and Don’t Let me Bring You Down, sounding bluesier and heavier than her earlier efforts and Easy showing slow tempo bluegrass and country influences from the outset – think along the lines of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash and you’ll be somewhere close.
Further evidence of Dylan’s influence come through on Divine which has hints of “All Along the Watchtower” in the lead guitar, while the song itself juxtaposes the influence, being a more sentimental homage to her Hampshire childhood. We also get a hint of more domestic influences like Mark Knopfler/Dire Straits in Gurdjieff’s Daughter which is reminiscent of revelations during her journey to self discovery.
Her comedic edge also still holds true, often subtle enough to bring a smile to your face once you uncover it. The best example being “…how did I get lost, looking for God in Santa Cruz?…” We also hear more of Laura’s recitative vocals which played a larger part on Once I Was an Eagle, now effortlessly intermingled with her silkily sung tones, the best example can be found on Strange, in the refrain “…Do you know how hard that is? Do you know how, strange life can be?…”. Strange follows her familiar theme of putting off potential suitors “…but should you fall in love with me, your love becomes my responsibility and I can never do you wrong…”
As the album draws to a close, we hear both Howl and the title track, Short Movie. These two songs lead us to the closing track of album perfectly, guiding us through the final stages of her journey and her feelings about leaving The States. The sound builds and builds, incorporating strings and exuberantly confident vocals to build a bigger sound than we’ve heard from her in albums past.
The album closes with Worship Me, a beautifully composed monologue which opens like a boy meets girl romantic irony, but on closer listening seems to be more about relationships with God. While Laura often includes comical lyrical references to various deities, this song sounds less whimsical and more serious bearing the final, poignant lyric “It’s God you need…Forgive me…Sit down and worship me…Devote your life to peace”. In spite of the sweetness with which is is sung, in our current religious and political climate, this is a brave and strong message that we could all learn from.
Short Movie, in short, is brilliant from start to finish and well worth the wait. With it, the Laura Marling that has come out of LA and back to the UK is far from the shy and reluctant performer she was on the release of her debut. It will be a tough album to follow, but if her musical efforts continue as they have done, I think she’ll manage just fine.
Stand out tracks: False Hope – Gurdjieff’s Daughter – Divine – Short Movie