The hyping of Laura Marling as ‘the new Joni Mitchell’, ‘the new Bob Dylan’, ‘the new Laura Nyro’, etc. does neither the singer nor the music-buying public any favours.
It is fair to say that Marling’s songwriting and singing have a rare integrity and a raw emotional edge that few British artistes have managed to develop. Still in her early twenties, she shows a compositional maturity and vocal technique that put most of her competitors in the shade. But it is precisely her individuality that sets her apart from the vast amorphous mass of singer-songwriters that is the music industry’s main cash-cow.
There is a danger that unguarded comparisons with giants of old in the press and blogosphere will raise the expectations of the public and the singer herself to damaging levels. The music industry and the press love nothing so much as a rock casualty, and it is fair to say that Marling’s private life has encouraged speculation and headlines.
My advice is just to listen. The most recent album (Once I Was An Eagle) makes the heaviest demands on the listener. I can understand why some fans who were enthralled by the early albums have grumbled at the direction Marling has taken. But this is by far the most rewarding and involving work she has delivered, and the most painfully honest. It is a genuine masterpiece.
The first album, “Alas, I Cannot Swim” (2008), is much lighter in tone—pleasant but rather generic to my ears.
The sophomore release, 2010’s “I Speak Because I Can”, is noticeably darker than the first, but strongly melodic and accessible.
The third album, “A Creature I Don’t Know” (2011) may in the long-term be the most successful release of Marling’s career to date. It is the point at which she comes closest to channeling Joni, and there is a mellow folky gloss on the production that makes it sensationally listenable however raw the emotions involved. For most people unfamiliar with the artiste’s work, this will be the best place to start.
Ultimately, the hype has started because so many people have felt starved of original, efficient, emotionally involving music, and many have found that Marling’s work speaks to them with the same eloquence as some of their folk-rock heroes of old. But actual comparisons are pointless.