Mumford & Sons: International Movers & Shakers – Distance no object.
Not content with sounding like a removals firm, I think the worst thing, amongst many, many crimes perpetrated by the critic-proof, multi-award-meisters Mumford & Sons is the licence they’ve given to (lazy) reviewers, analysts and people who don’t really care that much about music to compare any new band who aren’t easily pigeonholeable to the West London lads.
“Fleet Foxes? Oh yeah, they’re kinda like Mumford…”, “Admiral Fallow? Well, you know that Mumford & Sons track…”, “Tom Williams & The Boat? Erm, some of their stuff’s a wee bit like…”, “You’ve not heard Midlake? Well, their last album sounds quite like…” Aargh. Stop it. Please.
Fleet Foxes: much more early Neil Young meets Fairport meets Nick Drake; Admiral Fallow? Think early Elbow, late at night, with a clarinet…Tom Williams and The Boat: more in common with Billy Bragg backed up by The Jam and as for Midlake, yes they do sometimes sound like Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac but they’re sod-all like Mumford. Or his sons.
Let’s get this straight, what M&S have done is cleverly, like their high-street namesakes, assimilated a range of other ideas, thrown money at it – Island, not exactly a knocked-up-in-my-shed record label – and marketed the hell out of it to make it look like it was all their idea. “Folk scene? This is not just any old folk scene…this is an M&S West London Folk Scene.”
“At M&S we know you people are busy so why waste time trawling through decades of John Martyn, Billy Bragg, Martin Carthy, Bonnie Prince Billy and Bon Iver? We’ve got all you need, right here in one convenient record. We’re M&S: it’s what we do.”
It’s easy, albeit pointless, to pick holes and find comparisons in all of Mumford’s songs. So I’ll just do it for a few of their better known numbers: Little Lion Man, the first single: Basically it’s any of Christy Moore’s solo stuff – insistent, brooding guitar work – with a banjo over the top.
Winter Winds: that grinding noise you can hear underneath this mariachi driven madness is the sound of the late, great Johnny Cash spinning in his grave as he laments what was once a great idea: the horns on Ring of Fire being mercilessly murdered in the pursuit of some Fleet Foxes on acid dream. This is supermarket aisle music. Kudos for the use of the word “trumped” in verse one though.
The Cave: now this, this one I like. Purely for its lyrical content and the pleasing images it conjures. “I’ll find strength in pain.” Really Marcus? Good news then. You’ll be competing with Geoff Capes by the time I’ve finished beating you around the head with this copy of Nebraska. Oh, and “Tie me to a post and block my ears”? How about I just tie you to a post then walk away and block my ears every time one of your songs comes on the radio?
My wife said to me a few weeks back “Oh you’re just saying they’re crap because you’ve decided you don’t like them so they must be rubbish.” No, I’m saying they’re crap because I think they are. Lazy music. Careless music. And no, it’s not okay to say “well so and so are a bit like Mumford” because to me that implies that “so and so” are not very good and therefore not worth a listen.
Yes, it’s easy for critics – and anyone really – to find a referential hook to hang things on but it’s only really helpful when it’s true. It’s fine to say “Camera Obscura? Yeah, they’re kinda jangly, think Belle & Sebastian meets Orange Juice” or “Teenage Fanclub? You’ve not heard The Fannies? Where have you been man?! Okay: think Big Star covering The Byrds, or vice versa.”
Yes, Amy Winehouse is more Sam and Dave than Chas and Dave, of course Anna Calvi’s more Chrissie Hynde than Chris De Burgh: these things are helpful. More helpful still is to go and, as the Doobie Brothers (lord help us!) said “listen to the music”… just as long as it’s not Marcus Mumford and his bloody Sons.