Mumford and Sons: Pop visionaries or one note hacks?

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by Andrew

Ever since I first time I heard Mumford and Sons’ “The Cave” blare through my car stereo, I’ve been captivated by their foot-stomping, feel-good hits time and time again. It is evident that Mumford and Sons have captured the hearts and ears of many more just like me, as their crowd of over fifteen thousand at the Xcel Energy Center earlier this week, of which I was an enthusiastic participant, would attest to. Hearing countless voices sing along uproariously to “The Cave” as the evening drew to a close should be enough to convince anyone that Mumford and Sons have left a definitive mark on the music of now.

But while Mumford and Sons may be notably popular, there is no ignoring the fall-out that often comes with that popularity.

Mumford and Sons are often berated for their cookie-cutter style songwriting and lyrics that seem to serve no purpose but to add sub-par vocals to an already bland mix of pseudo-folk. After only two albums, the band’s style has not changed a bit, and has produced some very similar sounding songs. Take the choruses of “Ghosts that We Knew” and “Lover’s Eyes” for example. Or even some similar use of chord progressions in “White Blank Page” and “Hopeless Wanderer.” Honestly, looking through all of Mumford’s songs, there seem to be many striking similarities: heavy, guitar-strumming choruses that you can stomp your feet along and emotional build-ups accompanied by soft guitar and often piano. Nothing worth listening to that’s been done by many a pop artist in similar ways before, right? Their style has also proven to be very easy to imitate and even make fun of as The Key of Awesome demonstrated in their sketch “Start a Mumford Band.”

It is easy to say that Mumford and Sons simply found a way to charm the masses with their catchy, processed rhythms and style, but there is also more to keep in mind. Mumford and Sons songs speak to myself and others, and I can’t help but wonder why? Many songs are fun to sing out, but on closer analysis there is no clear meaning to the words. Take, “Roll Away Your Stone” for example. In the rousing instrumentation that follows the main chorus, Marcus sings about “giving up his desires,” but then immediately contradicts himself, singing about sticking his “stake” in the ground. I’m no poetry scholar, but those that uphold the argument against Mumford’s lyrics may have some grounds on which to stake their argument.

Should we just discredit Mumford and Sons as another talentless pop band that has a recycled style not worth listening to? In their defense, Marcus Mumford’s voice sounds great anywhere. Throughout their whole performance at the Xcel Energy Center I couldn’t get over how great Marcus sounded; he was always in tune and able to hold out his often long, gruelling notes. His harmonies flowed effortlessly through the tidal wave of brass and violin that often accompany rousing bridges. Their instrumentation through many of their songs may seem “recycled,” but on closer inspection we find genius piano riffs and banjo solos that are to die for. Just take “Hopeless Wanderer” or even “Babel”. Also, as far fetched as this may seem, Mumford and Sons started out very, very small; coffee shops and audiences of 12 small. Taking a style that only required a few songs to begin with and then suddenly being one of the most popular bands in the world must put some pressure on your songwriting. Similar sounding songs could very easily just be a favored music style that the band is just not willing to grow out of, because it’s what they love to do. Songs like “Dust Bowl Dance” and “Thistle and Weed” are even examples of songs that depart almost entirely from the band’s usual, bright song structure.

Taking into consideration the number of bands that crank out worthless songs with no meaning on the market today, it’s easy to throw Mumford and Sons into the mix. Their style may be all too apparent through both of their albums, and their lyrics may seem watered down with useless metaphors and meaningless appeals to listener emotions, but it doesn’t take much to work past all of the opposition and really give Mumford and Sons a chance. So were those fifteen thousand people I shouted along with on Wednesday suckers for another generic pop band in disguise or one of today’s truly genius artists that pours their heart and soul into every performance and song? I, for one, will be continuing to hum snippets of “The Cave” as I drive to school each day, well aware that the band blasting through my stereo is worth my while.

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