Review Summary: Despite murdering their best idea with the best intentions Mumford & Sons still manage to craft a semi-enjoyable debut album.
David Strassman is a world famous ventriloquist, possibly the most popular of the past decade, he is credited with an achievement many thought impossible. He made ventriloquism cool. Suddenly it wasn’t just for the random dag at the party, or the crappy stand-up comic. He made it an art form again and has gained an incredible amount of respect for just that. The same can now be said for Mumford & Sons, except instead of making ventriloquism cool they’ve revived the banjo and the sorely missed “hoe-down” style of early folk and bluegrass music.
M & S have also accomplished something else some considered impossible, or at least extremely difficult. Indie bands rarely get the coverage needed to hit real mainstream success; they simply don’t have the money or the means. They must rely almost entirely on word-of-mouth to sell records. That being said, getting played alongside mega artists like Soulja Boy and Nickelback is something to definitely be proud of. In addition they found this success with their debut single and album. Most bands spend years perfecting their sound to find success; Mumford & Sons got it in one. To top that off, they managed it in a country on the opposite side of the world. This isn’t some local band getting played on a local radio station for a bit of publicity, this is a local band becoming known world-wide. And it’s all because of one song.
Listening to the album as a whole it is clear why “Little Lion Man” was chosen as the lead single. Its energetic, catchy, relatable and a good example of M & S’ talent as musicians. It’s the kind of song you can play with a few fellow blokes around, beers in hand and mateship thick in the air (ironically that fittingly describes a lot of the rest of the album). Oh, and it’s also one of the few unique songs on Sigh No More
. Not “unique” in the sense of “non-generic”, but in the sense of “it stands out because every other song on the album is similar to the one before it”. Rarely do they deviate from this structure: a quiet, soulful beginning that builds into a mighty crescendo. This, at first, was awesome, it got me dancing and singing along happily. Then they did the same thing on the next song, and the one after that, and the one after that and so on for the first 6 tracks, then “Little Lion Man” comes on, and then back to that structure again. I can hardly bare to imagine what it would have been like if “Little Lion Man” was the first track instead of the 7th. Thankfully it sits halfway and helps to break the monotony a little.
It’s all too obvious the band is young and still has plenty of room to move and grow. They’ve stuck to what they know on Sigh No More
and that has left them with a narrow avenue of possibilities. That same criticism however gives much hope for the next venture. The potential for improvement is there, all M & S need to do is expand on their influences and explore their own abilities. Sigh No More
is a safe album, the follow up has to be at least semi-experimental or the boys risk becoming a one-trick pony.
That’s not the only silver lining though, and neither is “Little Lion Man”. There are other tracks that stand out (though a few only get there because of a bit luck with the track listing, like “Sigh No More” only standing out because it’s the first track). Each member performs well in their chosen field and during the acoustic passages they are each given a chance to show their chops. For instance in “Awake My Soul” when the rumbling upright bass comes in, nicely complimenting the finger picked guitar, or “After the Storm” where the guitar and strings softly creates the scene of a world just beginning to repair itself after a might barrage. Talent is not squandered, not in the least.
As well as this Marcus’ vocals are gorgeously rough and passionate, roaring above his fellows when needed and crooning softly if the music calls for it. Listen to the aforementioned “After the Storm” and hear the honesty and power in his performance. His lyrics are excellent too, though they rarely stray from the overall themes of death, love and life, there are still quite a few unforgettable lines like this one from “Thistle and Weeds”
“Plant your hope with gird seeds
Don’t cover yourself in thistle and weeds”
The other song that legitimately stands out is “Dustbowl Dance” where, instead of choosing a recognisable melody for the build-up, the sound dissolves into a buzzing, angry cacophony. This isn’t a bad thing, in fact in some ways it’s more effective then the melodic climax. It’s a nice twist on the crescendo plan, which, in the grand scheme of the album, is rather welcome.
Really the main issue with Sigh No More
is not anything to do with the individual tracks, taken on their own they’re wonderful examples of their genre. It’s just that, put together, they suddenly become tedious and irritating. In another 2 years or so I will have my fingers crossed that M & S have learnt their lesson and developed their sound beyond one murdered idea and a few bits of scattered genius, lord knows they’re capable of it. Until the next album I’ll just have to live with the few tracks I like on here and hope the lyrics don’t come true.
“But it was not your fault but mine
And it was your heart on the line
I really ***ed it up this time,
Didn’t I my dear?”