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Laura Marling’s “Short Movie” Review

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IF YOU ARE BORN ON FEBRUARY 1, you are creative! The zodiac sign for February 1st is Aquarius and you are honest to a fault. You truly believe in what you feel. Aquarians born on February 1 are blunt or straightforward people. Although you can have a dry sense of humor, you are a smooth operator. With your ability to make snap decisions, you have gotten yourself out of some tight spots.”

The problem with “Short Movie” is Laura Marling is at heart a confessional singer songwriter and the album lacks a center of gravity, you can’t confess if your confessions are filled with contradictory impulses, you can’t build an album based upon a footnote. An oblique take on a couple of years of Laura’s life, it has a confused self awareness that wanders through the songs. It hurts not the album, which is excellent, but the texture of the songs and our connection to them. If you are gonna write a diary album, why be so precious about it?

On her fourth album, the sublime Once I Was An Eagle, the album was all movement,it was all the spiral story teller: Hegel’s thesis, antithesis, synthesis and new thesis. Perhaps it is wrong to expect this from an album every time out, just because Marling has done it once does not mean she owes her listener every time, but it goes back to the writing: it is difficult to shed your privacy and provide an emotionally bare album, while remaining hidden in allusions (not to mention illusions). It is difficult to write a story that doesn’t change on you. There is no emotional fulcrum, there is no catharsis, and so it leaves the listener looking for something that might not be there,  if you’re a fan you go in search of something else.

Short Movie, moves from devotional love, through self help and moral barometers, to two stories, and a song for her best friend an finally a guide to how to love her. If it is a move from East to West and back to East again, it is also a move from realism to magical realism to magic and back to realism again. Laura has mentioned Jung (that’s why I added the sun sign at the start of the review)  but Jung was pretty out there by the end (and I claim that as a huge fan) and perhaps the truth is George Gurdjieff is closer to where she’s at here. On “Gurdjieff’s Daughter” she quotes from the spiritual teacher’s words of advice to his child.  It’s smart stuff, though if Marling owes to George, George owes to the Tao. It isn’t a bad song but it leads you up another dead end street on Short Movie. It is smart but limpid but good songwrting

Indeed, all of this is as good as songwriting can get. “Short Movie” is a superb rumination on our imminent demise, “Easy” is better, one of the great friendship songs, this is a stronger love song than romantic  love songs because it is more content than her love songs. “I Feel Your Love”, “Divine”, “How Can I” (the Joni Mitchell song, not quite the equal of “Where Can I Go”) all feel transient, all feel overpowered, and given Laura, who has a huge emotional wanderlust, constant where true love is in a state of flux. “When you know you’re winning, you’re already losing” Laura claims and falls into her sexual epitaph.

All of this becomes more important on the brilliant “Strange”. Marling botched this in the arrangement, she didn’t need to sing-speak it and when I heard her sing it at the Beacon, she had rearranged the vocal on the chorus so she sang it soprano and the juxtaposition of the adultery worked better. The goodness of the couple, or implied, or wished for, or hoped in the way we look at ourselves in the mirror and ask: “am I a good person” because yearning and scary and sad, needed the high-low. The positioning here of the adulterers is fascinating, both the man sleepwalking through his life and the woman unwilling to give herself to the married man too much. It comes across as a fable.

Short Movie itself positions these questions time after time, which is fine, except her context is so muddled, it is like she let her concentration slip. And that’s the worst you can say about Short Movie. Show me an album with songs as great as “Short Movie”. “Strange, “How Can I” and “Easy”, even her East Coast waking nightmare “False Hope”, and I will show you Once I Was An Eagle.  If it works from the edges, if it is clearly bewildered, if it could only send her away and if true love, or at least true hope, is so difficult to cling to, these are flaws in life not song.Perhaps at her age, it is wrong to search out a new thesis, her failure here is in laying her old one one out, in a confessional that doesn’t know where it’s at. How strange life can be…

Grade: A-

 

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