What’s in a title? For each of her first four albums, Laura Marling has chosen a wordy, often grammatically odd moniker (I Speak Because I Can, Once I Was an Eagle) – reflecting a musical style that was introspective, bookish even. Despite this, her critical status has nearly been matched on the commercial front, bringing with it a degree of interest in the private events that inspired the public songs. None of which you feel was ever part of the plan, perhaps one of the main reasons for her decision to relocate to LA.
It was perhaps inevitable then that a change was going to come. So instead of Alas, I Cannot Swim we get Short Movie. Those expecting a musical volte-face will find themselves wrong footed though, at least at first. ‘Warrior’ is firmly in the classic Marling mould, a slow burning acoustic number centred around a drowsy vocal. Nice enough, but the sense that we’ve heard it all before is inescapable. What we haven’t heard is her plug in an electric guitar, turn it up and front a noisy rock ‘n’ roll band. OK, ‘False Hope’ isn’t quite Sleater-Kinney but it certainly is an invigorating shot in the arm, even if her occasional slips into an American twang are a little disconcerting.
And that’s Short Movie in a nutshell, a mixture of the familiar and the willingness to strike out. Of the former, her lyrical intensity – this is very much another deeply personal record – wins through but it’s those bolder brush strokes that really provide the colour. ‘Strange’ has a strong Ani DiFranco feel (both in terms of the almost spoken lyric and fierce acoustic guitar playing), while Gurdjieff’s Daughter’ is bizarrely reminiscent of ‘Sultans Of Swing’. The curse heavy title track is where it all comes together, a brilliant coda to an album that offers the listener a mixture of light and shade and Marling herself a range of new possibilities. For both parties it should prove a refreshing change.