Monday, September 27, 2010

Laugh, Lenny

I Speak Because I Can
Laura Marling

Outside of Joni Mitchell's Blue, I don't really "do" acoustic solo folk. The lyrics tend to be hyper-poetic, something I've never been a big fan of. For all the praise shoveled on Leonard Cohen, with the exception of "Hallelujah" and "Diamonds in the Mine," I've never gotten it. This is music populated by lines like "There's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in," which seems deeper than it really is. I feel that way about everything he wrote, even those I enjoy, such as "Dance Me to the End of Love." It's full of the sorts of general, broad, intentionally obscure lines that other writers get belittled for scribing. The idea almost seems to be to make the lyrics so general and so meaningless that everyone will assume them to mean only the deepest things. This is, of course, only one man's opinion.

There's a line in "Made by Maid," the beautiful second track on I Speak Because I Can, where Marling says, "On the hill where I was born, there is a rose without a thorn. They cut it off each year and give it away." I have no idea what it means, but it's lovely, and, unlike when I listen to Joni Mitchell or Laughin' Lenny, I don't feel like Laura Marling is judging me for not knowing what it means. Perhaps it is the canonical pressures attached with listening to Mitchell, Cohen, or Dylan, but I've always felt like I'm a lesser listener for their music not meaning anything to me. It could be that they all take themselves so damned seriously.

I know why I love "Diamonds in the Mine," on Cohen's Songs of Love and Hate; it's the sound of Cohen having fun, something he's really only ever done the once, something Dylan's getting better at as he gets older, and something Joni Mitchell has never been accused of. I bring this up because Marling, whom I realize I have barely mentioned in a review of her own album, sounds as though she's enjoying herself. She is serious, she is astonishingly mature for 20 years old, she has a gorgeous voice and is a formidable guitar player, and her words are clearly invested with more meaning than most, but it doesn't get in the way. I don't feel like she's judging me for not knowing what she means when she talks about the rose on the hill. And for that, I am more willing to try and form my own interpretations.


This review is admittedly premature. I've only listened to this album three times, twice on Saturday and once last night, and I don't believe that's enough time to digest anything. I will likely be driven to reappraise this album in the coming month.


Anonymous said...

If the work of Joni Mitchell does not mean anything to you, and you are fluent in English, then indeed you are a "''lesser listener." As for your odd suggestion that there is no "fun" in the work of Joni Mitchell, I would suggest that you listen to some of the following: Big Yellow Taxi, Chelsea Morning, Twisted, In France They Kiss On Main Street, Talk To Me, You're So Square (Baby I Don't Care), Underneath The Streetlight, etc. Beyond that, I would say this: Joni is a visionary, and speaks her truth. Yes, she takes herself seriously. That is why her work is so profound.

CC44 said...

Let me be very clear, I have a huge amount of respect for Joni Mitchell. 'Blue' is one of my absolute favourite albums. I have listened to 'Court and Spark,' 'The Hissing of Summer Lawns,' and 'Hejira' four or five times apiece, and they simply don't do anything for me. I do not dislike her as an artist; I just do not have a taste for most of her work. Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen are all unquestionably brilliant songwriters. They just don't do a lot for me, which is why I find it all the more remarkable that I enjoy Laura Marling's album as much as I do, as they are the main reference points.

Anonymous said...

Well of course, to each his or her own! I can understand (I guess) that someone might not care for Joni. But I couldn't understand how someone who is clearly intelligent could say that the music did "not mean anything to me." I guess most of her work just, for whatever reason, does not "resonate" with you. Out of curiosity, what do you think of Nick Drake?

CC44 said...

It occurred to me after I posted the review that he is as large an influence on Marling as Mitchell, but as I am not as familiar with his work, I'm not qualified to bring him up as a benchmark. I listened to all three of his albums in a one-month span about two years ago. I thought 'Five Leaves Left' and 'Bryter Layter' were gorgeous, but the only one that hit the spot was 'Pink Moon.' I loved that album. I've been meaning to revisit all three of them for a while now.