“The most important band of the decade,” was how someone described Mumford and Sons to Breaking More Waves a year or so back. That excitable individual was clearly suffering from a severe dose of hyperboleitis, a disease that impassioned music fans and critics can sometimes suffer from when describing an artist that they love dearly. We would argue with conviction that such a title should rest with Radiohead, and although Mumford & Sons are many leagues down in terms of musical importance, having released several well received EP’s and regularly turning in some spell binding, rabble rousing live shows, the London four piece are a without doubt a very decent band indeed. It seems that they also have an ability to invoke over the top partisanship from their most ardent fans; the kind of love you expect from metal and rock fans, but not from a folk band. Good reviews of their live shows, including by this author, back this up. Clearly Mumford and Sons have something special going on
It therefore came as some surprise to read the reviews of the bands debut album Sigh No More a couple of weeks ago. Drowned in Sound described it as limp, the Independent suggested the band were nothing more than posh kids who have discovered that folk music is quite good and the Guardian called the record generic, giving it three out of five. We wondered what had gone wrong. Had, as sometimes does, the studio environment sucked the soul out of the band, leaving nothing but a bland over produced album? The disparaging reviews seemed to suggest so.
Well, after numerous listens to Sigh No More we can only conclude that the established critics were listening to a different album to the one we have. Yes, we would agree that Sigh No More is not a classic, but it is certainly an album that is engaging, infectious and in places magnificent. We suspect that Sigh No More is one of those albums that many critics will dislike yet the public will embrace. Evidence of that can be seen by the album entering the UK Top 20 yesterday at number 11, an unusual achievement for a band who favour the banjo, bluegrass and launched the record with a party in a barn. To put this in perspective other artists surrounding them in the charts include Muse and Mika and it was a higher entry than new releases from Kiss, Air, Tiesto and Deadmau5. The public like Mumford and Sons for the simple old fashioned virtues of well written songs that are performed by talented musicians. These are tunes which pack a fair degree of dark lyrical emotion but combine it with a musical up-swelling of euphoria, similar to a band such as Arcade Fire.
The sound of Mumford and Sons could be described as an English version of Fleet Foxes, but with a musical sentiment that is likely to cause you to burst into a spontaneous jig at various points. Hoe-down is the key word here. Roll Away Your Stone may start with a lilting medieval sound, and simple acoustic guitars backing the stone sharp swashbuckling vocal of Marcus Mumford, but things really get going when the thumping rhythm and banjo kick in. Radio One favourite Little Lion Man works on a similar basis, replicating their raw ebullient live sound well. At their best the songs of Mumford and Sons soar, climaxing with big choir like vocals that elevate the soul. There are just a couple of songs where the band don’t quite succeed. Winter Winds has hints of Fanfarlo, The Pogues and dare we say it - Del Amitri , in a swaying, sing-a-long kind of way that is just too cloyingly old school traditional folk for its own good; although we could see it being an unlikely contender for a Christmas number one. The quiet acoustic closer After The Storm is also a little rambling, plain and forgettable after some of the other glorious songs on the rest of the album. With these exceptions however Sigh No More is a passionate, well crafted folk / pop / rock album that achieves what many of their fans have been saying for some time; that the band have the songs and ability to take their sound beyond the fringes of the new folk underground and into the mainstream.
Maybe the critics would have liked something a little more dangerous, but the lack of experimentation doesn’t mean that this is a poor album. Sigh No More is a very good, sometimes great debut that will satisfy fans and bring new listeners into their arms as well. The established critics were wrong.