Marling began debuting songs from Once I Was An Eagle, as early as mid-late 2011, before the release of her third album, A Creature I Don't Know. These songs included "I Was An Eagle", "Pray For Me" and "Master Hunter". The album, according to Marling, is the "plain[est]" album she has written. She has commented that it follows a central figure, who angrily shuns naïvety and love, and over the course of the album regains a "second naïvety". The album is written in three tunings, which mark the basic changes in emotion. The first half ("Take The Night Off" to "Devil's Resting Place") has a darker, more melancholic tone, whereas the second half ("Undine" to "Saved These Words") has a more upbeat and open tone, if not jubilant. Marling has stated that there is a greater cohesion to 'Once I Was An Eagle', in terms of themes and the development of the music. Many critics have noted that the first half feels more like a continuous idea, exacerbated by the first four songs ("Take The Night Off", "I Was An Eagle", "You Know" and "Breathe") which flow together as one.
Following the conclusion of her tour for her previous album, Marling began production on her fourth album. Unlike her previous three albums, she chose not to work with a band, and instead she enlisted the help of producer Ethan Johns and cellist, Ruth de Turberville, to assist with the album's production. Marling recorded the album in 10 days at Three Crows studio in Bath, England. The guitar and vocals were recorded live in one take. The album is considerably longer than her previous efforts - an issue that has divided the opinions of critics; some saying that the album "flies by", others noting that it would benefit from losing a couple tracks.
The album was announced on 8 March 2013, along with a streaming of "Where Can I Go?" on Laura Marling's official SoundCloud page.
Long time collaborators, Fred & Nick, created an 18 minute film called When Brave Bird Saved, written and directed by the pair, which was a "visual introduction" to the first four songs on the album, "Take The Night Off", "I Was an Eagle", "You Know" and "Breathe". The four songs seamlessly flow into one another, much like "Don't Ask Me Why" and "Salinas" on Marling's previous album, A Creature I Don't Know. The name from the film is derived from the titles of the last four songs on the album, When Were Happy? (And How Long Has That Been), Love Be Brave, Little Bird, and Saved These Words.
"Master Hunter" premiered on Zane Lowe's BBC Radio 1 show on 16 April 2013.
Marling performed stripped-back versions of "Master Hunter" and "Once" on Later...with Jools Holland on 26 April 2013.
To promote the album in North America, Marling embarked on a small tour leading up to the album's release. "Where Can I Go?" was sent to North American Triple-A radio on 20 May 2013.
One week prior to its official release, the album was available for streaming exclusively on The Guardian and NPR on May 20, 2013.
Marling collaborated with Secret Cinema for 18 dates on an event known as the Eagle Ball. Reception was extremely positive, however many concert goers were turned away on grounds of identification and an age limit which was not made explicit before.
On metacritic Once I Was An Eagle holds an aggregate score of 87 points out of 100, indicating "universal acclaim" based on 28 reviews. This is also Marling's highest metascore by 5 points. Metacritic included 'Once I Was An Eagle' in a list of the best albums in May 2013, coming at the top alongside Daft Punk's 'Random Access Memories' and Pistol Annies' 'Annie Up'. The article said of 'Once I Was An Eagle', "Mature beyond her 23 years, British singer-songwriter Laura Marling (a former member of the band Noah and the Whale) has already been nominated for two Mercury Music Prizes, and could score another for her latest critically acclaimed release. The atypically long, 16-track Eagle was produced by Ethan Johns and is earning nothing but acclaim from reviewers; expect to see this one showing up on plenty of year-end top-10 lists." Aggregating website AnyDecentMusic? reports a score of 8.3 (again, Marling's highest rating yet) based on 32 professional reviews. After achieving a rating of 8.6, 'Once I Was An Eagle' became part of the all-time top ten of AnyDecentMusic?.
Reception for Once I Was an Eagle has been overwhelmingly positive.
NME gave 'Once…' nine out of ten in a positive review, calling Marling's analysis of her relationship "forensic" and saying "Four albums into a remarkable career in which she's yet to put a foot wrong, Marling is still waiting for her chorus. 'Once I Was An Eagle' sets a high bar; does anyone doubt she'll soar over it?". The New York Times gave the album an extremely positive review and called it "magnificent", later going on to say that "Her romance is philosophical as well as passionate, archetypal as well as personal; her songs gracefully raise as many conundrums as they answer." 'Once I Was an Eagle' received a very positive review from Clash Magazine, calling it a "beautiful achievement", and confirming that Marling can "sit side-by-side with PJ [Harvey], Joni [Mitchell] and Sandy [Denny]" as one of the "greatest singer-songwriters of both her generation and generations before it." The review concluded by saying that "Without doubt, this is one of the folk albums of the year."
A positive review by the Irish Times said that "whether she is softly crooning over a plucked guitar or dabbling with organs and percussion for quietly cacophonous climaxes, Marling is never less than captivating." The website entirely dedicated to folk music, #folkgeek, gave 'Once I Was an Eagle' a glowing review saying "Brilliant and bold, Once I Was an Eagle easily tops the short list for Album of the Year contenders. For longtime Marling fans it will surely not disappoint, however Once… may just break Marling into the big time with more casual listeners (and, dare I say, the US market?). Truly spectacular – it is the must-have album of the year so far.", highlighting 'Breathe', 'Where Can I Go?', 'Once' and 'Saved These Words' as standout tracks, describing the latter as "Sheer bliss." Another website dedicated to folk music, Thank Folk For That, gave the album five out of five, and said "So the queen of contemporary folk has proven that she doesn’t intend to give up her throne anytime soon. Once I Was An Eagle is Laura Marling at her very best, and at just 23, she’s sure to keep breaking hearts and inspiring the new generation of singer-songwriters."
Another favourable review by Huffington Post concluded in saying that "England has a proud history of producing generation defining female singer-songwriters; the likes of Polly Harvey and Kate Bush can attest to that much - however in Laura Marling, we have an artist not only capable of carrying on that fabled mantle, but dare I say, improving upon it as she does so." and commended Ethan Johns and Marling for breaking the "'twee' shackles girls with guitars often find themselves bound by are again completely shattered, the vocal delivered more powerful, the guitar playing more intricate and lyricism ever more complete. It's often stated that good books help paint pictures in your mind's eye, and Marling's songs are no different, her wordplay at its extremely vivid best."
Slant magazine gave the album four and a half stars out of five, and called it "close to a masterpiece, a heavenly composition with just enough hell to keep things from feeling too familiar." Matt Langham, writing for Music OMH, wrote that "it [Once I Was An Eagle] is a work that cements her reputation as one of the country’s leading singer-songwriters. This, of course, is a standing that’s earned and age-blind.", giving the record four and a half stars out of five. He went on to say " The songs are seemingly plucked as easily as ripe fruit from a branch, but this belies their focus; it’s likely to be as powerful and unified a passage of music as you’ll hear all year." This Is Fake DIY gave 'Once I Was An Eagle' nine stars out of ten, and said, extremely positively, "Compare her to Bob Dylan all you like, but to issue a bold statement, Marling here proves herself, not as a product, but as an equal. Further down the line, it seems likely that on the emergence of another deceptively quiet young songstress with lyrics that stab and capture minds, the words on everyone’s lips will be ‘this sounds like Laura Marling’ instead."
The Telegraph gave Marling five stars out of five, the reviewer, Neil McCormick finishing, "I can’t quite pin down this album and that is one of the most appealing things about it. Her songs are liquid and amorphous, prone to shape-shifting, rarely offering up an obvious verse and chorus symmetry, or easy interpretation. Marling is never likely to be a fixture of the pop charts. But Once I Was An Eagle is a masterpiece, and, at 23, she’s still only getting started." The Independent also awarded the album five stars, saying "As well as her most lyrically mature work, it's also the most musically satisfying. Marling and producer Ethan Johns have opted for a sparse uniformity of guitars, hand percussion and cello." The Guardian gave the album four out of five stars, saying that "there are a couple of moments where she still feels like the sum total of a very tasteful record collection, where she struggles to make herself heard over the echoes of Joni Mitchell and Dylan's thin wild mercury sound. More often, though, she cuts through her influences, and rings out loud and clear; when she does, it's a very diverting sound indeed." The review positively highlighted the intensity and relentlessness of the first six-seven songs, and of the latter half said that "the quality of the songs remains almost unerringly high". Metro awarded Marling four out of five stars, positively saying that despite her slipping into an "unnatural" American accent, "Marling’s songcraft shines here. It’s both distinctive and redolent of classic songwriters such as Carole King or Joni Mitchell. A beautifully melodic collection that hits engaging heights." The Financial Times with yet another positive review gave the album four out of five stars, saying of the distinctive two halves "The first half of the album negotiates themes of emotional ambivalence and erotic to-and-fro with rolling riffs and pattering tabla… The second half blends this loose-limbed style with more characteristic influences (Joni Mitchell, [Bob] Dylan, Leonard Cohen), the music taking on a calmer, more reflective mood."
In a less effusive, anomalous review from The Times the critic, Will Hodgkinson, deterred from the major view of all other critics, saying that he found the album "unsettling", he however called it "impressive" and awarded the record three out of five stars. Time Out critic, James Sherrard, gave Once I Was An Eagle four out of five stars, saying that "Marling is on her way into an exciting new phase of her career. This [Once I Was An Eagle] is definitely a fitting addition to the current one."
Track listing[edit source | editbeta]
All songs written and composed by Laura Marling, except for "Interlude" by Ethan Johns.
No. Title Length
1. "Take the Night Off" 4:12
2. "I Was an Eagle" 4:21
3. "You Know" 2:30
4. "Breathe" 5:00
5. "Master Hunter" 3:16
6. "Little Love Caster" 5:52
7. "Devil's Resting Place" 3:14
8. "Interlude" 2:16
9. "Undine" 3:12
10. "Where Can I Go?" 3:40
11. "Once" 3:38
12. "Pray for Me" 5:05
13. "When Were You Happy? (And How Long Has That Been)" 3:53
14. "Love Be Brave" 3:04
15. "Little Bird" 5:40
16. "Saved These Words" 4:27
Personnel[edit source | editbeta]
Laura Marling - voice, guitar
Ruth de Turberville - cello
Ethan Johns - drums, production
Rex Horan - Bass
- Take the Night Off
- I Was an Eagle
- You Know
- Master Hunter
- Little Love Caster
- Devil's Resting Place
- Where Can I Go?
- Pray for Me
- When Were You Happy? (And How Long Has That Been)
- Love Be Brave
- Little Bird
- Saved These Words