Review Summary: If you don't listen to it properly, Sigh No More is a fantastic debut.
There is an unspoken truth within the self-proclaimed indie community that people who enjoy music that gets played on radio stations are in some way the victims of an elaborate con. The logical progression of this belief is the even quieter suggestion that a lot of people don't actually enjoy what they purport to, and are - through a combination of their own pretense and the record labels' apparent mastery of brainwashing
- simply posturing. When they dance to Lady GaGa and cry to Westlife, they really
wish they were swaying to Burial and healing to The National, or something like that.
While this mindset is predominantly the product of a superiority complex and a plethora of self-congratulation, there do exist deeper versions of the argument which hold more water: that, for example, bland pop music teaches people to disengage from musical diversity to such an extent that they don't feel
like more "substantial" artists could or do have anything more
to offer: a narrowing of the possible criteria, basically, by which an album or song can be judged. Hence, we arrive in 2011 with an undoubtedly astounding performance like Adele's 'Someone Like You' at the BRITs and the reactionary echo is loud but ultimately hollow: "look, an artist with real connection to their songs! Remember that?" But it still only reaches a large audience because of songs like 'Warwick Avenue' which are, in their recorded forms at least, far more trend-driven than heart-driven.
is why Sigh No More
is the worst album ever, because the claims it makes to altering the status quo fall flat before they've even finished being executed. Which claims are these? You surely didn't need to ask that question. It's all too easy to see, and therein lies the first disaster. We will bring
folk to the mainstream. We will write lyrics that are meaningful
. We will be inspirational
. It's actually difficult to imagine that Mumford & Sons used any words other than "meaningful" and "inspirational" in writing their debut album, such is the transparency of the mission statement.
But it is not the objective-driven nature of the songwriting that lets down Sigh No More
. No, many a superb album has been written with a full appreciation of an intended effect. But here, much more, it is the fundamental misunderstanding of what those terms - folk
- actually mean, or worse still, a deliberate re-defining of those terms as diversion tactics. What results is a checklist of devices which one would hesitate to call clichéd because of their relative absence from the world of pop songwriting, but which are just as empty.
This is why every Mumford & Sons song sounds the same, because like pop's other worst acts (and I emphasise the use of the word acts
) - say, Scouting For Girls and Owl City - their formula is
their music. Here, the pre-determined soundscape is one of 'earthy' guitar and banjo, decidedly introspective vocals and words whose ambiguity hide the fact that they can't
even possibly mean half as much as they seem to. And that inspirational last lift, of course, shouldn't be forgotten; how could you when it is repeated with such amnesia, ad nauseam, the same double-time strumming and the same gang vocals.
Like monkeys on typewriters, of course, Mumford & Sons occasionally type not quite the entire Iliad
but maybe a couple of lines which do make sense next to each other. Such is the case with songs like 'Little Lion Man' and 'Winter Winds', and what results is indisputably endearing in isolation. But the images and expressions stumbled upon in these comparative standouts aren't just too infrequent over the course of Sigh No More
as a whole - worse still, the gems that do somehow exist get lost amid the static, the forced rhymes and passionate platitudes which surround them.
And so every time an artist as painfully mediocre and meaningless as Mumford & Sons is touted as the next inspired and meaningful thing, the bar is lowered for the next set of pop artists, and soon we'll arrive at a point where even comprehensible lyrics are deemed a telltale sign of personal and emotional songwriting, where any slight vocal crack is labelled fragile
in the same way as Conor Oberst's genuinely paper-thin desperation used to be, and any discernible 'real' instrument (banjos being, thankfully, still a last resort right now) is hyped as gritty or raw. Artists like Mumford & Sons are far more dangerous than ones like Katy Perry; their version of satan has been trained in the art of disguise.