The anticipation has been building for months after the announcement of “No more banjos” by Mumford and Sons for this new album. Immediately I had to interject, “Why all the hate on banjos?”
While their unique sound played a part in some of the initial popularity, banjos are a novelty instrument. I think they sound great, but I couldn’t really tell one banjo lick from another. It all bleeds into a high-toned twang that makes me want to throw on some overalls and drink moonshine. I mean, even Jason Bateman can shred a banjo to the point of smoking. Ditching the twang and adding a consistent drummer was a natural progression for M&S. Also, not to be forgotten was the news they would work with producer James Ford. I never notice producers, probably because I don’t really care, just make a song and let me consume it. But, I had to take note of James Ford because he was the producer of the best albums by the best band in the world, Arctic Monkeys. Needless to say, I was very interested to see how it all turned out.
The truth is, the change isn’t that significant. They have done a handful of songs with a more traditional lineup already, including one of my favorite tracks, “Dustbowl Dance,” which is exclusively electric with Marcus playing drums after the opening verse. You hardly notice the banjo is gone. The same can’t be said for the added percussions. A driving drum beat in nearly every track brings a nice pace to some songs that would feel like they are dragging otherwise. It keeps the overall tone of excitement and emotion moving forward. Both changes were noticed, but not really game changers. If anything, the best thing to come of the more traditional lineup is a gained appreciation for what great writers they are.
One of the immediate things I pick up on in a song is the melody of the lyrics. The music is usually based on like six different chords; all of rock is, so we stopped reinventing the genre a long time ago. But, what makes a song unique is the way they lyrics are woven into that music to make a memorable melody. (How do you like that alliterative sentence?) The best example I can use is how their biggest hit, “The Cave,” is sung. Just think of how catchy it would still be if it were performed acapella. “It’s emp-ty in the val-ley of your heart…” And that is what makes this album so good; you realize these guys would be great if you gave them a washboard and a fucking empty jug to play on.
With that said, I don’t think this is their best album, I still prefer Sigh No More. However, after announcing a change that seemed would be so drastic, and it’s hardly noticeable, is quite an accomplishment. They are still definitively still Mumford and Sons, and they are able to do much more than we may have given them credit for.
Monster – Amazing song. The hip-hop inspired drumbeat lays the foundation for the standout melody I mentioned before. The last sentence sounds funny, but just open your mind to the possibility of “Mumford and Sons” and “hip-hop” in the same sentence. It has the traditional M&S somewhat spiteful, somewhat judgmental lyrics. He makes the songs represent his feeling of being hurt and the only defense is a good offense, lashing out with vengeance. “So fuck your dreams/ And don’t you pick at our seams/ I’ll turn into a monster for you, if you pay me enough.” Not exactly a love ballad, and that is what I love about M&S.
The Wolf – Disappointing to hear this wasn’t about Harvey Keitel’s character in Pulp Fiction…or is it? “He wanders ever closer every night/ And how he waits, baying for blood.” Eh, I’m reaching. This is the track most people probably thought the entire album would be, which it’s not. But, this is far and away the most rocking track. I am not the least bit disappointed; The Wolf has a sonic boom of sound never heard before on an M&S track.
Believe – Their first release from the new album had me hooked and still delivers. They transitioned into the electric sound to perfection in Believe. We all know the “pattern” of the M&S songs of the past, slow buildup, frantic rock out, falling to an end. While it may seem tired to some, it’s what they are comfortable with and they do it well. Believe follows it perfectly with the nice ambient Coldplay buildup culminating in the passionate, outcry of emotion, end. It sticks to the formula we are used to with a distinctly different sound.
Rating: 17 banjo plucks out of 20.
Mumford and Sons make their first appearance in the Detroit area on June 16th!! Unfortunately, it’s sold out and everyone with extra tickets is trying to rip us the fuck off.
Watch the video for “Believe” here
Watch the video for “The Wolf” here