Song Review – Mumford & Son’s Go Electric on “Believe”
On March 9th, 2015, the suspenders depressingly slumped off the collective shoulders of America’s over-educated and under-employed string bands, the hipster mustaches had a little less starch, and the slide in banjo sales turned into an downright tailspin as the British outfit that symbolized the very apex of 2012’s old-timey (and in many ways, unfortunate) acoustic craze officially went electric. No, this is not like Dylan’s July 24th, 1965 set at the Newport Folk Festival where he marched out on stage with an amplified band and sent the folk consciousness reeling. Why? Because in the end, it’s just freaking Mumford & Sons.
Mumford and his collective progeny were never as good as their fiercest proponents characterized, or as bad as their staunchest critics complained. They were the product of a time when a hyper-craze happened to coalesce around a by-gone era of music that, hey, fans of bluegrass, folk, and primitive country could easily relate to. But next thing you knew there was a string band on every corner packed with guys looking like Greg Norton from Hüsker Dü, playing bad Gospel covers and Old Crow’s “Wagon Wheel” on repeat. The trend went from kinda cool to critical mass in the span of a semester of an anthropology course these well-heeled and well-adjusted Caucasian boys from upper-middle class families aping poor Appalachian folks were enrolled in. It was like a Sex in the City dress up party for post grads who never hated their parents.
That’s why it wasn’t surprising at all when Mumford & Sons concluded their Babel world tour in September of 2013 that they announced an extended hiatus. Their spirited string band bit had become such a brimming fountain for comedic ridicule, a retooling was in grave order. And that’s why it should be no surprise to anyone that when Mumford re-emerged from 18 months spent parking their millions in smart investitures to hedge against the prospects that nobody would care when they tried to climb back into the view shed of the popular consciousness, they did so with an electric approach.
READ: String Bands That Are Better Than Mumford & Sons
Mumford & Sons were never a string band. They were a pop rock British band who had stylized themselves instrumentally to take advantage of a specific trend in music. You’ll never see The Avett Brothers or Old Crow Medicine Show need to make some dramatic stylistic shift, because they’re insulated by originality. But hey, as easy as it is to bag on Mumford and their suspenders, their music wasn’t all that bad. And the backlash against them was equal in its short-sightedness as their popularity was.
Mumford & Sons tried to deaden the blow of their new approach by announcing they’d gone electric a while ago. And now we get the first taste of this Ben Franklin-aided era of post-acoustic British pop rock music in the form of their first single, “Believe.”
“Believe” is a busy, stewish, hodge-podge of sound that doesn’t really say much, doesn’t really go anywhere, and doesn’t really present any sort of united stylistic front. It’s just sort of there, making some noise at you that is not really offense, but doesn’t come across as that appealing either. It’s analogous to nothing, which in the end is the essential character mark to any Mumford & Sons song.
What is the over/under on Mumford & Son’s success as they attempt to emerge from stylistic purgatory? Handicapping rock bands has never really been my forte. I really don’t know what I believe, and apparently neither does Mumford.
March 9, 2015 @ 7:07 pm
Never really was a big fan of theirs, but I think they sounded a bit better acoustically.
March 9, 2015 @ 7:10 pm
Ironically it’s the first M&S song that I have to admit to quite liking – not a fan. Much as I love ’em I think Old Crow could probably use a little reinvention – I don’t think the last couple of albums have lived up to their earlier work and even sound a little tired – looking forward to their hardcore-punk phase!
March 9, 2015 @ 7:15 pm
Not for me, but nothing from their first two albums resonated with me, either. What’s crazy though is Marcus Mumford isolated from the band has released some good Americana/Folk music. His contributions to The New Basement Tapes (listen to Kansas City) and Llewyn Davis projects were outstanding.
Truth No. 2
March 9, 2015 @ 7:23 pm
Coldplay with a banjo.
March 10, 2015 @ 9:21 am
I don’t much like Coldplay, but I could even see Chris Martin saying, “Good job guys, but I think we played that song better the first dozen times we did it fifteen or so years ago.”
March 10, 2015 @ 11:23 am
“Coldplay with a banjo.”
Too funny ……and dead on
March 9, 2015 @ 7:28 pm
Just reminds me of any other Brit Pop band. I don’t hate it, but I could live without it.
March 9, 2015 @ 7:47 pm
I was never a Mumford fan OR hater. I did get a bit Mumforded out like everyone else, but at first they were alright. In the beginning, like them or not, they DID at least have a pretty unique sound. Now they just sound like every other mediocre pop music on rock radio band.
March 9, 2015 @ 8:27 pm
My sentiments exactly (though I still love that “Hopeless Wanderer” video, heh… 😀 ). Even with the acoustic instruments, I always figured their appeal was in big pop hooks — personally, I found “The Cave” and “Roll Away Your Stone” particularly irresistible — but I can’t say this electric outing is anywhere near as rousing or catchy as I would’ve expected.
March 9, 2015 @ 7:58 pm
Great review and I think “hodge podge” sums it up best….
Also Trig, a bit off topic and I know you’ve been swamped this past week with the Wayne Mills case but I was wondering if you are planning to review the new album by Jackson Taylor & The Sinners? I just purchased it and I think it’s my favorite album they’ve done! Keep up the great work.
March 9, 2015 @ 8:34 pm
The album reviews are what suffered from all the Wayne Mills coverage, and I hope to play catch up in the coming weeks. A copy of the new Jackson Taylor is in the stack and I’ve already given it a spin or two.
March 10, 2015 @ 5:31 am
Agreed, Anthony. JT&S newest release is one of my favorites. Enjoy all their stuff, really, even the gratuitous cussing songs!
March 9, 2015 @ 7:59 pm
Embarrassingly generic. I never was anti-Mumford, but this is just not interesting.
March 9, 2015 @ 8:16 pm
So how many guns?
Not that I care about M&S’s.
March 9, 2015 @ 8:36 pm
Sometimes giving a grade just doesn’t feel like it does anybody any good. I’m not sure I’m qualified to grade a song like this because I’m not really up to date with the world of rock music. I don’t think the song is terrible by any stretch, it’s just sort of pallid. Call it 1 gun up, 1 gun down maybe.
March 9, 2015 @ 9:33 pm
Gotcha. I reckon I’m in the same boat as you. This type of music never appealed to me so I wouldn’t be a good judge of it. To me the song sounds like a backing track to a sci-fi video game, if you were to take the vocals out.
This is considered rock though?
If so, rock may have some of the same issues going on that country does.
March 9, 2015 @ 10:46 pm
The second half of the song sounds rock. The first half sounds like trance/New Age.
March 9, 2015 @ 11:01 pm
I guess. Even that part really didn’t sound rock to me either.
March 9, 2015 @ 8:53 pm
I am not a fan or a hater (okay I guess I’m more of a hater) of these guys, but thought I’d give this song a listen just for sh$ts and giggles. What the hell is this? Really? I don’t even understand. Is there anyone who likes this, and if so, who? Frat boys? 13 year old girls? I’m seriously confused when it comes to the state of popular music. WTF. Someone please enlighten me before my head explodes!
March 9, 2015 @ 10:21 pm
I give this 1 1/2 guns down. I like their bluegrass/folk sound on their first 2 albums. This is a disappointment to me.
March 10, 2015 @ 1:08 am
A directionless Mumford song? Never…
March 10, 2015 @ 3:45 am
Fairly forgettable for sure. But maybe their new direction will help un-clutter the string band world a bit. Hopefully folks will stop saying they like bluegrass cause they dig M&S. And maybe hipsters will focus more on kickball and other forms of irony. Appalachia needs a break from all of the hysteria surrounding its music.
March 10, 2015 @ 6:27 am
And maybe hipsters will focus more on kickball and other forms of irony.
Now that’s good.
March 10, 2015 @ 7:58 am
Excellent observation. Between the recent obsessions with bluegrass, moonshine, and ginseng wars, those people could use a break….
March 10, 2015 @ 4:53 am
Was happily suprised this was a tear down of Mumford and Sons. I grew up listening to my mom’s country music (a lot of Reba and Garth) but never really liked it. Mumford & Sons, Frank Turner and the Zeros got me to start going back toward country mostly because I got bored of most of the other music that was out there. So I am very happy that I’ve found a genre that I can really relate to. The sad thing though was when I started to listen to country radio here in Milwaukee everything was about drunk driving making out and heavy petting….hence I started following your site a few months ago. Keep of the good fight for music thats about something that real people with real lives can relate to.
March 10, 2015 @ 4:58 am
I had no idea they were British. That explains a lot.
March 10, 2015 @ 5:37 am
Dull, boring, and lacking true emotion, like most music that comes from the Brits. Genuine emotion is what must be sacrificed to keep the stiff upper lip. Since Shakespeare, this has been part of the national character. Thus most things since, especially the music (and the food) lacks any real emotion.
March 10, 2015 @ 7:31 am
When British artists do hit the emotions, they do it very well, though. The Script come to mind, even if some of their more recent stuff is shaky. I consider them the British version of The Fray, who up until their last release reminded me very much of Gin Blossoms due to their more downtrodden lyrical content.
March 10, 2015 @ 10:35 am
I hate to be a pedant but the Script are actually Irish. It’s an honest mistake to make, particularly because they’ve had so much success here in the UK, but calling the Irish ‘British’ is probably one of the worst faux-pas you could make on the Emerald Isle. 😉
March 13, 2015 @ 3:08 pm
I really don’t know how British music lacks any more emotion than American music. I listen to far more American/Canadian music than British, but the I’m no stranger to the music made by our neighbors across the pond and I’ve never found any of it emotionally stunted.
March 10, 2015 @ 5:50 am
There are a lot of music I hate a lot more than Mumford…yes, their hype was a bit much, but its nice to flip over a commercial pop/rock station and not have something in my ear that makes me nearly vomit in my mouth.
March 10, 2015 @ 11:35 am
Oh god… it was bound to happen sooner or later…
Nashville pop country meets Brit shoegazing pop.
Bigfoot is Real (eat your heart out Chupacabra)
March 10, 2015 @ 11:42 am
Glad to see the whole guns up\guns down thing isn’t in use. Hopefully to be replaced by something more meaningful.
BTW, did a gig with Konrad Wert couple weekends ago and it was a pleasure directing people who wanted more info about him to SCM. He’s really a quality person too.
March 10, 2015 @ 12:17 pm
If they were Coldplay-with-a-banjo before, then this is just Coldplay 2: We Made The Drums Sound Big This Time.
God. I actually liked Babel.
March 10, 2015 @ 3:56 pm
Yeah, they used to be Coldplay with banjos, now they’re literally just Coldplay.
I can’t say I’m surprised.
March 10, 2015 @ 12:24 pm
was never able to get behind these guys. They aren’t terrible, I just never understood how they got to be so big, when better bands like Trampled by Turtles, The Wood Brothers, and Old Crow, who have been doing their brand of string/Americana/Appalachian mountain music for a much longer amount of a time.
March 10, 2015 @ 6:13 pm
Not for me, but why the props for the Avett Brothers? Rick Rubin ruined that band. Just plain awful.
March 10, 2015 @ 7:21 pm
My only point was they never had to come out with some revolutionary new concept like “going electric” just to stay relevant. Though they’ve added a few new side players and changed their sound over time, you still have the two brothers standing up their with a banjo and guitar. I thought they hit their stride with “Emotionalism” but that’s a little beside the point.
March 11, 2015 @ 7:07 am
“Rick Rubin ruined that band.”
March 10, 2015 @ 6:42 pm
I hope they go back to their Bluegrass/Folk roots soon.
April 13, 2015 @ 4:00 pm
The point of the article is that they don’t have roots. They were tourists; little more than a novelty act.
mumpsnuts and son
March 12, 2015 @ 10:24 am
took 2:00 minutes for the song to start!! boringggg
March 12, 2015 @ 11:00 am
Was the world really clamoring for a second Kings of Leon?
March 13, 2015 @ 2:20 pm
Some might say even one was one too many.
March 13, 2015 @ 5:38 am
I personally love it! I’ve also always thought that their sound was very original. The raspy voice of Marcus mumford mixed with a hint of bluegrass. They actually introduced mainstream pop radio with a sound that hadn’t been heard. Their new stuff does sound more like Coldplay for sure, but I don’t think that is bad at all. I am a U2 fan as well and how many times have they reinvented themselves. That is necessary to stay relevant.
April 2, 2015 @ 3:31 pm
I put my reaction to their going electric into a parody (with banjo!) you might enjoy. https://youtu.be/Z961xTOMZJE