“Varium et mutabile semper femina,” wrote Virgil: “Woman is always fickle and changeable”. Laura Marling’s sixth studio album takes its title from this classic quotation, but turns it on its head in a stylish, intelligent, and very relevant way. Semper Femina (which translates to ‘always a woman’), is an album that, like ‘woman’, deserves more than to be easily defined; stylistically varied, often lyrically ambiguous, and consistently innovative, it cannot be boiled down to a couple of adjectives. Its subject, femina, is constant, yet femininity and female relationships take many different forms. This spirit of the album is captured in the lyrics to track ‘Nouel’, named after one of Marling’s close female friends: “You’ll be anything you choose”, she sings, “Fickle and changeable are you / And long may that continue.”
This album proceeds a difficult time for Marling personally; she moved to LA during the height of her UK success and temporarily gave up music to teach yoga. She spoke of her loss of self in America (The Guardian), where her and her music were largely unknown: “I had no identity. It was really, really, really difficult. I was socially bankrupt.” Thankfully Marling overcame that destitution, re-found music and, during the process of self-restoration, launched podcast ‘Reversal of the Muse’. In this she examines femininity and womanhood in creativity, particularly in the music industry, and has recently featured guests such as Dolly Parton, Shura, and Marika Hackman.
Like Marling’s previous works, Semper Femina offers very personal self reflection in a remarkably relatable way. Opening track, ‘Soothing’ is faultless. It feels effortless, yet incredibly well-crafted. Careful and unhurried, a hypnotic bassline snakes alongside a stark drumbeat that leaves her flawless, and at times ethereal vocal beautifully exposed and defiant. Strings swell eerily and urgently with each chorus, building up a cinematic effect in the song, which then ends as mysteriously as it began.
“Wild Fire” is bluesier, touching on Americana in tone (and vaguely in accent), but stays true to that witty Marling honesty that we know and love: “I think your mama’s kinda sad / And your papa’s kinda mean / I can take it all away / You can stop playing that shit out on me”.
Overall, this work is a perfect balance of considered, thought-provoking, and abstract ideas, with Marling’s perceptive and honest storytelling. Lyrics are Dylanesque and relatable, yet the album refrains from attempting to lay out precise definitions of what femina really means; men have been all too often trying and failing at that since Virgil.