What’s in a song?: Mumford & Sons – Believe

You’d have thought that considering my well documented dislike of the Mumfords, I’d have gladly used today’s post to knock them down a peg or two; and you’d be right. Problem is that gloating sits uneasy with me. My Mum brought me up proper. All that cultural-Christianity and soft morals holding me back from thrusting the knife. How much I want to thrust the knife and write a snide, expletive laden, reddit-worthy page of bile. But I guess it’s just not my style. Shame. Though the fact remains that yesterday they released ‘Believe’ on to the world and the world responded in typically banal fashion (curse you internet!). Braving their Youtube comments tells us two things; first that everyone gets called Coldplay in the end (which is sad on so many levels) and that far too many people are confused about a) folk music, b) Dylan and c) the natural evolution of musical style. So, in the absence of gloating I shall now proceed to nitpick in the most passive aggressive mode I can muster. Hoorah.

I have never liked the band; basically because I saw them as inauthentic right from the start. I wrote about it in passing when reviewing the utterly superior ‘Judah and the Lion’; but it boils down to not believing that a guy from London has the experience and depth to appropriate country music and the vat of variety that is Americana. I was alone in this; their novelty value kicked in (because we all like a bit of novelty, it makes us feel alive in this tablet age) and went on to make significant name (and some cash moneys) for themselves while I got all flustered trying to explain my position. Honestly, I was a little jealous. But then I remembered it was all a deceit. An audibly pleasant one, sure, but a deceit nonetheless. Now; I will weather your arguments as to how folk is an evolving form that can absorb influences gladly to form something exciting and current because I made them myself. I will take your verbal punches on how music is free and how pedantic criticism is pointless because I threw them first. The issue is that they are simply not a folk band. The presence of a banjo is irrelevant; at the core they are and always will be just another run of the mill British indie band. All ‘Believe’ does is ram the point home.

So why is ‘Believe’ such a disappointment? As Youtube points out, Dylan went electric and all the traditional folk-types were up in arms, so why can’t Mumford? Well, aside from than the fact that you can’t lose roots that weren’t there to begin with, Dylan was from a different time and altered himself in a way we couldn’t comprehend. So much has changed in music since that Judas moment. There are no barriers anymore; you can write what you want and mix what you want and generally wallow in the anarchy of pure freedom. Again, why can’t I just leave Mumford alone? Well, because the change isn’t a good one. It isn’t a useful one and it doesn’t add to our cultural experience in any way. At least when they were cod-troubadours they gave us a slightly different type of boring pop and made the space needed for significantly better artists (First Aid Kit, anyone?). It was trendy-cool but at least it was something. Now, like Coldplay before them, they are content as nothing but background noise. Though the difference being that Coldplay took the slow road; two genuinely interesting and important albums followed by various experiments (of dubious success) that carved a niche that is all their own. A simple niche, but one that can successfully sell whatever world the marketing men will have us see. It made much money. But Mumford is taking the same quick road as Keane, The Script et al. Running blindly for the epic money and stadium tour without any proper footwear. It’s all been done before. It will all be done again. Sadly.

                          Tale as old as time.

And finally, at the death; the one point that rids ‘Believe’ of any begrudging respect I had previously afforded the band through my criticism. It is just not good. Not good on any level. Sure, many people will like it because it is simple. Many people will ignore the cliché of a synth opening, genuinely believing it ‘modern’ and a ‘natural evolution’. Many people will ignore the poor, poor structure (bland verse, non-chorus, bland verse, fatter non-chorus, generic electric-coda) and how it tries far too hard to capture the epic, sing-along feelings of the past. Many people will simply let it wash over them before consuming something else. Because a song like this doesn’t need to get under the skin, it just needs to balm people and dumb them into a stupor until they buy the next Apple product (he says; whilst writing on his trusty Macbook Pro). A depressing reminder of ‘Brave New World‘s College of Emotional Engineering. Then again, I was never an Alpha so maybe it’s just genetic inferiority sneaking in. Still, I no longer feel the need to comment on Mumford anymore, they have no purpose beyond the commercial. Alpha minuses amongst Alpha minuses. Such sweet liberation in being a lowly Beta (at best, in a good light). Go forth and do your thing, Mumford. You are finally the band you pretended to be.


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