Mumford And Sons
Sigh No More
, October 7th, 2009 10:31
About a year ago, off the back of the emergence of one Laura Marling, someone in an ivory tower at music press headquarters christened a genre: new folk. It was meant to reflect the collective ambitions of one of the most inward looking musical gangs of recent years — a banjo-bothering, fiddling troupe that gatecrashed each other's tours and got together for a big back-slapping Christmas do in Cargo. They numbered Marling, Mumford And Sons, Johnny Flynn, Jay Jay Pistolet, Cherbourg and Peggy Sue among others. Noah And The Whale were in there at the start but then it all went wrong after frontman Charlie Fink got dumped by Marling for new-folk godfather, Marcus Mumford. Tabloid stuff, dear reader, tabloid stuff.
It's all gone rather the shape of the pear now, with Fink telling sob-stories to the Guardian about his second 'Laura Marling break-up' album, and word going quiet about the scene. The press tired of a tag that meant little other than to its proponents, who were too busy hanging around massaging one-another's egos over the rhyming dictionary to make any lasting impression.
From the ashes of this phenomenon rises another, stranger beast. Mumford And Sons have been gathering pace for the best part of a year, releasing a series of three EPs and cajoling malleable indie-kids into country dancing at festivals and gigs. A fourpiece clad more often than not in tweed and braces, Mumford And Sons are a burly band of solid folk musicians whose debut mounts three chords and plugs them senseless for the duration of its twelve tracks. What piqued interest — perhaps only for the fact that it was so far removed from ubiquitious 'indie' — in EP format, lacks any subtlety and humility when extended to album length. Whether this lowest-common-denominator approach to folk will convince early fans on release will be a measure of the mass.
And the plot doth thicken with the lyrical content of this album. Sigh No More is shot through with Christian iconography, from the hymnal 'Awake My Soul' to the country gait of 'Roll Away Your Stone', with its ruminations on grace and sin. The whole biblical theme comes to a furious climax in 'Dust Bowl Dance', with Mumford screaming 'there will come a time when I will look in your eye/ You will pray to the god that you've always denied/ I'll go out back and I'll get my gun/ I'll say you haven't met me, I am the only son.' It's quite remarkable to catch such brazen religious themes on what is, essentially, a pop record — more remarkable still that for the majority of listeners the Christian intent in this will fly beneath the radar.
Maybe it's commendable in a world where materialism and disposability proliferate to write for a higher power, but it can't but make the conscious listener shift uncomfortably, like being trapped in an evangelical church when everyone's clapping with their eyes closed.
What's missing here, apart from an antidotal dose of Dawkinism, is a modicum of self-restraint. Sigh No More is so earnest it weeps holy water, from theatrical drum rolls to jiggedy banjo riffs to trumpeting fanfares that are too bloody obvious to swallow. Pomp and pop are common bedfellows — but with Jesus squeezed between them, three's too many for your average proverbial duvet.