MUMFORD & SONS
Karl Marx, who probably didn’t mind some English folk at the pub after a long day at the Reading Room of the British Library, once said that history repeats itself, first as A Rush Of Blood To The Head, the second as Delta.
Ok, this may not be the accepted version of that aphorism from the one Marx brother even less funny than Zeppo, but I think we can be satisfied this will hold up under scrutiny wherever mega-selling albums are sold.
When Coldplay’s Parachutes arrived at the turn of the century, and especially when their second album, A Rush Of Blood To The Head, came two years later, the band inadvertently but more than satisfactorily filled a gap/addressed a need among mainstream music buyers.
With Radiohead getting twitchy and electronic, Oasis disappearing up their own coke-filled noses and U2 unsure which version of the world’s biggest rock band they were anymore, people who wanted pop with rock dynamics, rock with some emotion, melodies you could sing and sentiments you could get behind were in the mood and in the market for something which could synthesise these strands.
Nearly two decades on, with Radiohead refusing to be easy to grasp, Oasis a dim memory, U2 invoking the grandfather clause and Coldplay somewhere between refurbishment and retirement, the times are calling for a middle of the road pop rock band to make you feel like you can leave the house without calling for the community bus, turn the volume past seven without needing to find a panic button, and express some feeling without getting hugs from the Queer Eye boys.
Hello Mumford & Sons, history welcomes you. I dare say Scott Morrison welcomes you (just between us, he’s found U2 a bit tricky without the God bits, and Coldplay confused him with Mylo Xyloto).
Yes, I know they used to be a folk-rock band with fiddles and braces, white shirts and banjos, but that was ages ago, a style not seen really since their 2012 album, Babel. Now, as presaged on 2015’s Wilder Mind, instead of unison singing to rouse you from your bar stool and jigs to rejig your dad dancing, the Mumford songs work a slow-to-medium seam of deep cut emotions like the heartsore Wild Heart. Instead of those banjos there are electric guitar lines that slowly build from nudging to soaring in a song such as Beloved.
Instead of wearing the opprobrium of middle-class boys playing music supposedly only allowed to the working class (no one does class consciousness like the British music press), Mumfords now will wear the stain of comfortable and successful men playing songs of hurt and pain and belief that bad times will be overcome, when supposedly only the struggling and forgotten are allowed this.
This is unfair, of course, but then Coldplay got hammered with something like that and seemed to do ok, and just as unfashionable music will always be sneered at, unfashionable music will always find a willing audience at the centre of the buying public.
And in most ways, Delta should connect there. I can’t pretend I was moved to any particular emotion and I can’t imagine I’ll play this unbidden any time soon, but it’s solidly melodic, without really nailing an absolute killer hook, though October Skies is downright pretty. It’s full sounding without ever tipping into stadium rock, though Darkness Visible brings the heaviness in its second half. It leans into hearts-rising-to-the-sky love songs like If I Say, without ever going the full power ballad.
It is in truth an album ready to be played in an arena where everyone has their wristbands lighting up, where Marcus Mumford can tell self-deprecating jokes and maybe run into the crowd for some communal hugging, and where date night, family night and party night groups can all turn up and get their pleasures.
If that sounds like Coldplay, well so be it. As brother Karl also said, from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs, for each a middle of the road pop rock record.