Leonora Carrington (Wiki Commons)
"Fickle and changeable, though I may always be," Laura Marling sings on "Nouel," one of the many tracks I'm currently obsessing over on her new album, Semper Femina. She may say "fickle and changeable," but she's fucking with us, flipping the script on how anyone might dare to define what femininity, and womanhood, really means.
From The Guardian's review:
A concept album about femininity and female relationships (or “an exploration of womanhood”, as one magazine put it, making it sound like something that worthy Channel 4 would have broadcast in the early 80s), it starts quoting Virgil at you before a note is struck: the Latin title is a bowdlerised line from the Aeneid, which edits a dire warning from the god Mercury that: “Woman is always fickle and changeable” into the more positive slogan: “Always a woman”.
A lot of Marling's references flew right above my little head until The Guardian broke it down for me. She's referencing Gustave Courbet’s 1866 painting L’Origine du Monde; she's inspired by Leonora Carrington and Rilke; and while this could all get a little insufferable, you really don't have to worry your pretty little head about it either, unless of course you want to.
You don't need to know or care much about the surrealists or the realist painters of whatever century to connect with tracks like "Nothing, Not Nearly" — at least, I don't. I guess I understand the feeling of "having a year where I didn't smile once, not really" or the sentiment throughout my favorite track, "Wild Fire":
She keeps a pen behind her ear
In case she’s got something she really really needs to say
She puts it in a notepad
She's gonna write a book someday
Of course the only part that I want to read
Is about her time spent with me
Wouldn’t you die to know how you're seen
Are you getting away with who you’re trying to be?
Trying, trying to be
It reminds me of a female friendship I lost a long time ago, and it doesn't make me miss that friend (and certainly doesn't make me miss being a teenager) but oh, I get it. I still get it. Maybe in some ways, we never lose our teenage selves in our female friendships. Maybe we still have that "wild fire" for the women we love like sisters and sometimes more than lovers. Or maybe you don't know what the fuck I'm talking about, similar to how Marling sings, "You always say you love me most/When I don’t know I’m being seen/Well maybe someday when God takes me away/I’ll understand what the fuck that means."
I laughed, loudly, when I first heard that lyric. I was in bed, with the cats, playing the song on my phone. Mufasa couldn't get away from me fast enough. She looked at me, annoyed, and leapt off the bed. Layla turned her head and yawned, slowly, deliberately. Lots of wild feminine energy in that bedroom. Geez.
Speaking of bedrooms, I'd like to live in the one from the video for "Next Time," which is four minutes and three seconds straight outta my weird dreams, of which I have many, frequently. In fact, I think I might be this woman in the video. NPR's Robin Hilton describes her as appearing "trapped in a baroque room, intermittently examining various objects and dancing, as though she's trying to both make sense of and escape from the space she's created." So essentially, me on any given Saturday.
All this is to say: I can't stop listening to Semper Femina, and I don't intend to anytime soon. I guess I forgot to mention, in case you aren't familiar with Laura Marling, this is a folk album, and a damn good one. Give it a listen. Remember, you were wild once, too.