Semper Femina was intended to be an observation of femininity from the perspective of a man. Luckily, the sixth album from British singer-songwriter Laura Marling defers from male voyeurism, instead embracing the female experience through the gaze of a woman.
Drawing influence from Virgil’s epic The Aenid for the album title (to literally mean “almost a woman” in Latin) and later incorporating his most renowned line into her lyrics, Semper Femina itself explores femininity, female roles and interactions and a self-acceptance that the feminine quest for perfection is a futile one. The country-folk tones of ‘Always The Way’ recount the end of a friendship offset with introspective analysis of a person’s stubborn ways and an inability to change. Elsewhere, the charming melody of ‘Next Time’ weaves tales of maternal fondness, climaxing with an intriguing ricocheting drone, whilst ‘Wild One’ weaves affectionate tales of the inquisitive nature of youth and the importance of not losing your eager spark as you age.
Marling has always been a proficient and talent songsmith, often rooting her music in personal experience and emotion. It is in this manner that her politicised commentary on femininity falls short of true meaning. Yes, we are handed a condensed summary of what it is to be female, but in many ways there is no real narrative or discernable statement. This is both Semper Femina’s charm and its curse, with tracks like ‘The Valley’ softly showcasing the talents of Marling’s maturing voice, yet choosing to dance around the specifics of the character that fuels her narrative. Instead, mournful and emotive inspection is the mode of choice, and whilst this may be in some ways frustrating, it fails to dissuade by the beauty of the track itself.
Pride of place here is given to album opener ‘Soothing’, as for all the elegance showcased elsewhere it fails to quite match the audial (and visual, if you’ve seen the accompanying video) intrigue that the first track spurs. “Can’t come in, you don’t live here anymore” Marling purrs as she wards an unidentified inquisitor. It is a sultry mix, the delicacy of the guitars marrying into the throbbing bass, resulting in an intoxicating and purely seductive concoction.
‘A woman is an ever fickle and changeable thing’, so said Virgil in the aforementioned Aenid. The remark is – at the present day – quite condescending, but instead at tearing the quote apart, Marling embraces it into her tome of introspection. “Fickle and changeable, semper femina” she croons in ‘Nouel’ as she pulls away threads of the idealised feminine mould that, even in 2017, society still draws women into. “She’d like to be the kind of free a woman still can’t be alone;” Marling’s effort may not actively pursue that feminist vision, but it deftly succeeds in celebrating the diversity of the female experience.
Laura Marling’s new album Semper Femina is available to buy now.