I know this is controversial but I’ve always liked Mumford & Sons. Screw the vitriol levelled against them. People say they’re fake. They say there’s irony to the fact that they’ve hopped off the bus fresh from a public school hockey match wearing waistcoats and brandishing banjos. They say they lack authentic emotion with their swelling crescendos and overwrought biblical references. They say for years the band churned out folky records that they copied from much better bands before them. But I was, and to some extent still am, a sucker for their folky sound, however inauthentic it may be. I loved their swelling crescendos and found them to be just as emotional as I’m sure they intended. I loved their biblical references, despite my stubborn atheism, and I loved their overuse of the banjo. I respected their songwriting for what I perceived it to be, a genuine effort at producing something that encapsulated life as a modern twenty-something with an underlying old-time-y feel.
So sue me, I was a Mumfordian. I was sucked into their whole ‘thing’. When I saw them live at Summer Stampede in 2013, I fucking loved the confetti that rained down on me as the boys bellowed out at us in dungarees and old hats. They were passionate, sweaty and even badass at some points (I was in awe when Marcus came out smoking a cigarette to strum his final number). And personally, I think it would be difficult to deny that behind all the shit that people criticise them for, they have real talent. Marcus has the ability to write interesting, emotive lyrics, they can all play the shit out of their instruments and their sound is nothing if not big. It’s really easy to get caught up in the pessimism of the alternative music establishment but it’s hard to admit that sometimes they’re actually unnecessarily mean. Sometimes, they can only look at things on a surface level, letting their opinions of the people behind the band cloud their judgement. The tweed clouds the talent. And that, I think, is a bit silly. So what they should have done is quit their moanin’ and held out for some good music from a band with the potential to crank out some less homogenous tunage.
Me, I waited for them to pull a Laura Marling. To grow and mature into real artists, minus the repetition of well-trodden themes. To experiment but stay true to their roots and give us something just as meaty to chew on with a little less pretension. Then the new album came out.
I was wracked with disappointment. Even before it was released, they began denying what made them famous, the banjos, the tweed, even their name. I’m sure they wanted to shake off all the cowpats that had been thrown at them along their musical journey. But really they sounded like ungrateful babies throwing their goodies out the pram. “Fuck our fans,” they were saying. “We want new ones.”
Commenceth the rant. Screw you guys. You think you’re better than us? The people that stuck up for you all that time when everyone was saying all your songs sounded the same? (“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”) The people that bought tickets at festivals just so we could scream along to your massive choruses? (“But tell me now, where was my fault/In loving you with my whole heart”). The people that suffered ridicule for playing your music to their friends? (“Who are these guys, they sound like a rip off of every folk artist ever.”) And you know what? Even if they wanted to strip off their tweed and run for the hills like Dylan before them, they better have had a damn good idea to justify it.
But, alas, they didn’t. All they had was a paltry attempt at the kind of stadium rock that Kings of Leon would trade their arms for. They had some half-arsed attempts at catchy lyrics and faux-sultry guitars. They had electric guitars but they sure as hell didn’t know how to rock. So what now? A new audience? Millennials looking for the 2017 equivalent of U2? Good luck with that lads. You missed your besotted fans when you played Reading and Leeds 2015. What makes you think it will be different for literally the rest of your career. You can kiss goodbye to the loyal people that followed you from a support act to a headliner cause we left as soon as we smelt a sell-out. Case and point: the viral hashtag #bringbackthebanjos.
And here endeth the rant.
All of that said, is there anything that can be salvaged from this wreckage of a musical relationship? Can any of my youthful faith be restored? Maybe. As I argue, they still have talent, even if they’re wasting it on a boring yet self-proclaimed ‘radical’ sound. Marcus still has an appreciation for the influences that inspired them. (See his work with the Dylan revival The New Basement Tapes). They’re still performing at relatively small, wholesome festivals. (See their upcoming headline at Latitude). And they still play their old hits, causing most to describe their live presence as a like that of a band having a mid-life identity crisis.
So what are we to think? The way I see it there are two options. Either, they are as inauthentic as everyone suspected. They invented this faux-rustic image to pander their way to the mainstream and then ditched it for what they saw as the new zeitgeist. Maybe they saw a gap in the market and tried to fill it with their ‘unique’ sound. OR, perhaps this really is a mid-life identity crisis and they will realise the fault of their ways. It’s unlikely, perhaps even impossible, but in these times it would be untoward to rule anything out. I mean we have a human cheeto as president, a lizard as prime minister and Ed Sheeran as the world’s biggest musician. Nothing is impossible anymore.
So maybe, just maybe, we will be able to forgive them. If they come back begging our forgiveness, with banjos in hand and tweed on chest, we would be heartless not to welcome them. If they take a good crack at this festival season and show us they’re not as namby pamby as their most recent album suggests, maybe, just maybe we could accept their flaws and shake off this crappy illustration from the etch-a-sketch. There’s a pretty big if there, but hope is our only option at this point. And hope we will.
Have a cheery Monday,