Marcus Mumford is my ideal mate. Accent? Check. Vaguely-but-not-too-hipster attire? Check. Sturdy bod, comparable to lumberjack, or sorta fat Khal Drogo? Check. Capital-F Feelings that would make me roll my eyes IRL? Fucking check. Could do without the seventh grade-style dusting of a mustache and the Pentecostal parents, but hey, love is about knowing when to compromise.
I’m into the music, too. Mumford and Sons’ first two albums ranked among my top 100 played songs on iTunes for years. But the singles released while gearing up for their third album are…bland at best. While watching their recent performance on SNL, I kept thinking: “Who are you, and what have you done with my husband’s band? Marcus, if you are being held against your will, blink quickly three times.” If they had taken off Mission: Impossible-style masks to reveal that they were actually Coldplay, I wouldn’t have been that surprised.
The band previously released two folk-revivalist albums, the second being an extension of the first—same sound, bigger budget. The drive to experiment and evolve is a natural artistic instict, so it makes sense that Mumford and Sons would push their sound on their third outing. But their Americana twang is completely absent from the new tracks. All the songs sound the same. That was a critique lobbied against their folksier stuff, too, but here, I admit my bias. I could listen to a thousand songs of the old, sweeping Mumford and Sons, no matter how indistinguishable from each other those songs might be. I have a visceral response to the sound—it makes me both buoyant and teary at once. The new singles, on the other hand, sound like any old rock band. They’re energetic, but even Mumford’s growling vocals can’t to save them from being completely forgettable.
Generally, I’m not anti-change. Like any art form, amazing work often comes when artists take risks. The Beatles are the world’s most obvious example of a band that pushed themselves and grew and evolved their sound record after record blah blah blah whatever. Beyoncé’s surprise self-titled album introduced us to Bey as complicated artiste. One of my favorite albums of 2014 was Taylor Swift’s 1989, which was a clear and smart break from her country roots. In an NPR interview she said that she spent hours online every day while writing the album, trying to figure out what her fans wanted from her. I’m not sure how she waded through comments like “u r a dum slut” (or so I imagine), to pull out the stellar album she did. But, cheers, girl.
So, why is Mumford and Sons’ new sound just not working for me? Yes, it’s partially that they’ve departed from their established identity, at least for now. (And some advice, Marcus, my heart? Just a touch of banjo in the chorus of “The Wolf” could bridge the gap between the band we know and the new one you’re trying on.) Like so many artists before them, they’re attempting to be something different, and thus something greater, than they were before. But in the end, the music isn’t that good. It’s new for them, but that novelty isn’t enough. We already have a Chris Martin—no need for a knock-off. It leaves me wondering if, perhaps, they weren’t very good all along. That’s what’s breaking my heart most of all.