“I’m just a horse with no name,” sings Laura Marling on “Warrior” — slyly invoking the 1970s soft-rock hit by America while conjuring a wanderer on an English moor, and teasing a “horse”/”whore” play on words while telling her errant knight to please dismount. It’s a flash of lyrical left hooks on a set where the British singer-songwriter goes all Judas, like Dylan before her, recording with electric guitar and broadening her palette without sacrificing her subtly badass folkie persona.
As on the striking lead sequence of 2013’s Once I Was an Eagle, Marling plays with repeated motifs. The central riff of “False Hope,” a plugged-in panic attack inspired by a New York City blackout, resurfaces in the soulful “Don’t Let Me Bring You Down,” which echoes the Pretenders and rhymes a flipped Neil Young title with the barked inquiry “Do I look like I’m fucking around?” (No, ma’am.) Marling’s acoustic-guitar work is more impressive than ever: See “Easy,” a fingerpicked folk reverie suggesting a stoned Joshua Tree journey, and “I Feel Your Love,” a breathless lover’s plea that evokes Nick Drake in its river imagery and shadowy string section. “Gurdjieff’s Daughter” mixes Smiths-flavored folk rock with Valley-girl lilts, evidence of the singer’s recent time in California. “Strange” is a talking blues that’s more Lou Reed than Woody Guthrie; ditto the title track, with its Velvet Underground-ish drones and galloping finale. “It’s a short fucking movie, man,” Marling sings with venom, clearly aiming to make the most of hers.