In the two years since Laura Marling released her debut album Alas, I Cannot Swim, the British ‘new-folk’ scene has slowly passed. The insurgence that came with the likes of Noah and the Whale, Johnny Flynn, Peggy Sue, and Jesse Quin & The Mets, set a hopeful precedence for what was to come in British folk. In many respects we were catching up slowly American equivalents that had existed for years before, but alas, the folk scene seemed to gather its fifteen minutes of fame, before withdrawing silently to the murky shadows.
With the exception of Mumford and Sons’ stunning debut Sigh No More, we’ve been left stranded. You’d be forgiven for forgetting about dear Laura Marling, and certainly forgiven for expecting a followup to her debut. So when I Speak Because I Can was announced, a certain level of scepticism loomed in the air. Considering her rather twee, albeit beautifully sounding debut, knowledge that the followup would depict her breakup with Noah & The Whale’s Charlie Fink, furthered that scepticism and worry, for only in February did she step out of her teenage years.
I Speak Because I Can can make for uneasy listening at first, though not as sceptics may have thought, through embarrassing journal-like lyricism, but instead through the genuine upset, bitterness, and pride that she conveys in her lyrics.
“The love of your life lives but lies no more/And where she lay a flower grows,” she sings on Devil’s Spoke; this certainly won’t be an album demanding pity by an stretch of the imagination, and by the time we reach Blackberry Stone, she sings “And I am Laura now, and Laura still/And you did always say that one day I would suffer/You did always say that people get their pay/You did always say that I was going places/And that you wouldn’t have it any other way.” Like Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, the pain, anger, and sweetness of their love, is ours for voyeuristic listening, its no surprise this is uneasy listening at first.
Compared with her debut, the musical eclecticism on I Speak Because I Can is a bricolage. Songs such as Goodbye England (Covered in Snow), and Blackberry Stone, still perfectly display just how beautiful and strong her voice is, over dainty acoustic guitar, but the haunting What He Wrote, dichotic dynamics of I Speak Because I Can, or most obviously, feverish, dare I say, folk-rock of Devil’s Spoke really show what this twenty year-old folk singer is capable of.
I Speak Because I Can is a beautiful and disarming second album. Any fears of immature ramblings of love lost are quickly dispelled, and certainly it makes Noah and the Whale’s breakup album seem like bitter, almost odious complaining. Even in her darkest moments, the beauty in Laura Marling’s songwriting and voice transcends. A truly great album by anyone’s standards, let alone by someone whom last Christmas was still just a teenager.