In the same way that a sportsperson or actor who finds fame at a prodigious age seems, after a while, to have been around forever, it’s something of a shock to be informed that Laura Marling is only just out of her twenties. That uncanniness is compounded by her seventh solo album, which frequently feels less like the work of your average millennial 30-year-old and more like that of a grande dame of the 1970s folk-rock scene who’s back on the circuit for one last tour, all smoky resilience and life-advice aphorisms combined with an instantly familiar voice. Then again, Marling’s music – honest and unvarnished, wilfully bereft of modernist studio circus tricks or preoccupations with contemporary fads – has always felt somewhat older than her years; now, perhaps, the singer is simply catching up her song.
That said, Song For Our Daughter is still Marling’s most mature-sounding record yet, for better and for worse. When that maturity is channelled into the sort of self-assured, muscular performance and songwriting that only arrives once a musician stops caring so much about outside approval, the results are gorgeous: ‘Alexandra’, expansive and pastoral without ever being soppy, flecked with Bobbie Gentry mystique and a touch of cosmic grandeur, makes for a brilliant opener, and the deep south swagger and shuffle of ‘Strange Girl’ is far more soulful and groovy than anyone could reasonably expect from a posh white girl from Berkshire. The central pairing of ‘Blow by Blow’ and the title track, too, are surprisingly affecting moments of spacious melancholy: there’s simultaneous fortitude and tiredness to Marling’s voice, a complexity that helps the yearning sentiment to land convincingly when earlier in her career it might’ve felt somewhat callow.
Elsewhere, however, Marling’s increasingly cemented position as part of the establishment leads to complacency, as thinly written melodies attempt to hide behind grandiose arrangements (‘Fortune’), and banal lyrics drift by without anyone seeming bold enough to question Marling about what exactly she’s on about (‘Held Down’, ‘Only The Strong’). None of this is terminal for the album as a whole, but when these troughs are surrounded by such adventurous peaks, it starts to look like a missed opportunity.
Nobody by now is expecting Laura Marling to ever make any great stylistic lurches (even if her exploits as one half of LUMP two years ago suggested a risk-taking side that was hitherto hidden on her solo releases) and so in that sense the gentle progression on show within Song For Our Daughter is rather lovely to witness, and plots Marling on an ever-improving trajectory. It also makes what awaits when the seemingly perennial 18-year-old turns 40, or even 50, even more intriguing.