Album Review: Semper Femina

Semper Femina – Latin for 'Always a Woman' – is Laura Marling’s sixth album that is comprised of nine songs and no male pronouns. As a long-time fan of Marling’s work, I'm always excited when she releases something new. Since her second album, she has released a new album every two years with each being a progression from the last. Semper Femina shows growth from her 2015 album Short Movie, in which she parted from her usual acoustic guitar into a heavier sound aided by brooding electric guitar riffs; Short Movie is set in a period of her life where she toured around the US with a guitar strapped to her back. This is also where she discovered a bolder style of writing lyrics. 

She wrote the album whilst on tour and has described that period as a “particularly masculine time of her life.” Because of this, she stopped looking at her songs from a male perspective to produce one of the most notable elements of the album— the absence of male pronouns. The lyrical voice is ambiguous in gender and the focus of the songs are women (which is bracing in a time of endless heterosexually-gendered pop songs).

In the first track, Soothing, the lack of male pronouns seems to be addressed with the banishment of some voyeuristic “creepy conjurer”. The song also works visually with the video being her directorial debut that adds extra layers of meaning and questions unto an already complicated track.

Marling takes us on a journey through art, philosophy, and muses; from her folk-indie-rock mix to longing string-filled tracks such as The Valley to rougher, soulful tracks such as Wild Fire (which harks back to the American feel of her last album), the diversity in her work is amazing. Her voice is also very striking; she adopts an American twang in some songs and utilises her natural British accent in others– most noticeably in Wild Once which adds to the generally ambiguous nature of the album. There is no pressure in this album to be a certain way. It is full of questions and it feels timely and appropriate in the ever-changing world we live in. 

My personal favourite track is the seventh, Next Time, which is also accompanied by a self-directed video. It is a strumming track, bold with glittering strings in the background. Whilst is pleasant to listen to, the lyrics speak of more turbulent times:

“It feels like warning signs were there for us to see.

It feels like they taught us ignore diligently.

I feel her, I hear her weakly scream.

Am I really so unkind, to turn around and close my eyes?”

This highlights a quality I love about Marling’s work— the ferocity of her language is ever present regardless of whether the sound wishes to reflect it. This particular song also seems to explore the fleetingness of female friendships and relationships in the face of opposition and the growth that follows.

The title is derived from Virgil’s The Aeneid and from Marling herself. She had also decided to get a line of the poem tattooed on her body which was, “A woman is ever a fickle and changeable thing.” Marling got half of the line tattooed to deliberately change the line's meaning. There is a lot of changed meaning in the album itself, where in albums before it had felt more personally connected; Semper Femina feels more like an observation of feminity in a wider sense. It provokes thought away from her own, steps away from masculinity, and allows a refreshing air of ambiguity (like the call of birdsong) that we are left with on the last track Nothing, Not Nearly.

 Semper Femina is available now to stream on Apple Music and YouTube or to buy from Amazon.