Everyone knows what happens to the average human being when the brain isn’t fully engaged. It’s not so dissimilar to being drunk. Emotions overcome common sense, meaningful words seem illusive and most other words are fluffed. And actions have a cruel way of betraying true feelings.
No, there’s nothing particularly sophisticated about the average heart-on-sleeve soul. And there’s nothing particularly sophisticated about Sigh No More either. But it doesn’t seem to matter that much. While Mumford & Sons may not excel as urbane, multi-dimensional songsmiths, they succeed by virtue of their sheer, unabashed wholeheartedness.
And theirs is a wholehearted sound too. Bringing together virtually all of folk’s sub-genres, Mumford & Sons share The Low Anthem‘s predilection for tradition both in terms of instrumentation – there’s everything here from ukuleles to trumpets – and recording and production. This is the kind of record that’s likely to sound similarly raucous when played live. Moreover, it’s the type of music that sounds like it involves a bustling band of 20, but in reality involves a far smaller number – four in this case – of talented multi-instrumentalists.
And as the album flits from the rousing Celtic-influenced skiffle of Roll Away Your Stone to the busker-folk of Little Lion Man and on to the pastoral gospel-bluegrass sound of Timshel, it’s Marcus Mumford’s pleasant, if not spectacular, voice and unaffected words that keeps the album from becoming a disjointed folk compilation. During Thistle & Weeds, Mumford screams “I will hooold ooon!” with plenty of heartfelt gusto but, unfortunately, not quite the same striking effect of, say, a Damien Rice.
But like Damien Rice – who, in many ways, was the catalyst for this new wave of crossover folk – Mumford doesn’t spend time weaving complex lyrical allegories. An adherent of the conventions of confessional songwriting, Mumford rarely minces his words regarding failures past.
During White Blank Page, Mumford has a message for his ex: “Where was my fault / in loving you with all my heart?” and her new conqueror: “Can you lie next to her / and confess your love?” The message of the next track, I Gave You All, is pretty clear. But Mumford’s heart isn’t always so pent-up with lament. The album’s excellent title track sees the singer restoring some faith: “Love that will not betray you / dismay or enslave you / it will set you free.” Amen to that. And there’s also a note to self about what lies ahead: “Where you invest your love / you invest your life.” Never a truer word, my friend.
Sure, talk of “warm tears falling on forearms” and “planting hope with good seeds” will occasionally expose Mumford’s lyrical naiveté, but these are early days for the young Londoner. For now, it’s better just to enjoy the rambunctious ride with the knowledge that there’s far more promise here than there is grounds for pessimism. Ironically, the album’s greatest reasons for optimism are also its most placid. Sigh No More’s Fleet Foxes-lite introduction sounds as beautiful as mournful voices in harmony always do. The same goes for the album highlight, Timshel.
As the delicate elegy After The Storm closes the album under gloomy clouds, Mumford’s chin remains firmly upright: “And there will come a time / you’ll see / with no more tears / and love will not break your heart / but dismiss your fears.” Even after all the turmoil, the heart of this unpretentious band remains refreshingly visible.