It was pretty much a given that a new Laura Marling album would be excellent, after her three records to date, and so it proved. All the talk prior to its arrival was off the four-song suite that opens proceedings, which certainly withstood the amount of expectation put upon it, tipping us off that she had moved on again. This is, by far, her most complex release and it oozes the confidence that anyone who saw her on the tour to promote her first album knows was sorely lacking at the start. The sublime but slight instrumental ‘Interlude’, which seems to mark a shift in the record’s momentum, has come to be one of my favourite moments on ‘Once I Was An Eagle’, perhaps because it represents the scope of this set.
This is no longer somebody finding their sound, something which, arguably, ‘A Creature I Don’t Know’ put to bed. Instead, it is the wielding of a phenomenal talent with masterfully dextrous control of the tiller. Marling’s key facilitator and musical foil, Ethan Johns, plays his part once again, as well as a range instruments where required. While the result may be quite something to behold, the process was brief, understated and organic. The way Marling tears into songs is a delight, building on the bite and ebullience of 2011’s ‘The Muse’ and ‘The Beast’. ‘Master Hunter’, appended to the aforementioned opening suite and very much of a piece, may be the best thing she has ever done, weaving in and out of itself in a fashion not dissimilar to the whole album, which truly has a sense of coming full circle by the time of its conclusion.
The pace drops in its final third as several, more melancholy characters are explored before rolling to a halt at the feet of album closer ‘Saved These Words’. It seems to simmer and shudder like a kettle on its way to boiling point, the percussion growing in intensity and volume while Marling’s vocal is half-sung half-spoken in a fashion that seems somewhat alien to her, building to the killer lines “thank you naivety for failing me again, he was my next verse”. It seems a fine point to stop and a neat summation of the considerable ground covered across the album’s duration. In many ways, it seems odd to be placing this album outside the twenty, let alone ten, best of this year and it may be down to her own incredibly high standards. Marling’s considerable and truly unique talent is such that we’ve come to expect such remarkable records from her.