I have played so much Mumford and Sons on this blog, I know it might be a little hard to believe I could keep discussing them, but here we are. I can’t help it. Their debut album, Sigh No More, is a well-crafted, folk-rock triumph with depth, intelligence and charm. Critically acclaimed, they’ve been nominated for a Grammy and the Mercury Prize, so it’s not just me. While I’ve featured some of this music before at OB&B, some of it I haven’t, so I’ll explore these songs a little more in depth and hopefully add some context to the album as a whole.
The album opens with the title track “SighNo More” that is, as our friend Roopost was kind enough to remind me, a beautiful Shakespearean adaptation:
I find this a very clever opening, almost an entre’acte of sorts in that the album deals with the aftermath of what came before, so the Shakespeare is a nice touch. We do get a hint to what’s ahead – and behind. “There is a design, an alignment, a cry of my heart to see/the beauty of love as it was made to be.”
I should mention, I was first introduced to Mumford and Sons by my neighbors, but only as background music. I liked it, but it wasn’t until a few days later that I really had a chance to listen to them. That first song was “The Cave,” placed second on the album:
With a clever metaphor drawn from Plato’s cave, a key insight to the song (and indeed the entire album) comes towards the end: “So come out of your cave walking on your hands/And see the world hanging upside down/You can understand dependence when you know the maker’s land.” And again, “Cause I need freedom now/And I need to know how/To live my life as it’s meant to be.” The music reflects the strength and determination of the protagonist’s spirit so that despite the heavy emotional content, the song is quite uplifting. This song sold me on this band. And to return the favor to my neighbors for the introduction, I sat on the sidewalk to get concert tickets for all of us.
The cave and independence metaphors are evoked again on the fourth track, “Roll Away Your Stone.” One of the more beautifully crafted songs on the album, it depicts a tale of self-exploration:
The rhythmic guitar adds tension and suspense at the beginning, “Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine.” After the line, “For I’m afraid of what I will discover inside,” the band immediately kicks off the musical equivalent of a wild, rollicking ride. The song goes back and forth between these two dichotomies. The rhythmic, tension filled guitar is used for tough reflections and difficult revelations such as “I have filled this void with things unreal/And all the while my character it steals” and “It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart/But the welcome I receive with the restart,” while the rollicking journey music punctuates the chorus, “Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think/And yet it dominates the things I see.” This crescendos to a driving rhythm with a triumphant declaration of independence like a victory march to close the song. Outstanding craftsmanship.
Moving ahead to the ninth track, Mumford and Sons display their more somber side with the dramatic “Thistle and Weeds”:
I like this live clip because Marcus Mumford delivers as good an emotional and dramatic vocal performance if not better than the album and it’s quite refreshing in this day and age of over-produced vocalists to hear them live sound as well as their recordings. He’s quite powerful belting out, “I will hold on,” then bringing it back down he chillingly sings, “But take the spade from my hand and/fill in the holes you’ve made/Plant your hope with good seed/Don’t cover yourself with thistle and weeds/Rain down, rain down on me.” Haunting.
The next song on the album, “Awake My Soul,” lightens the dark mood cast by the previous song, and is another brilliantly crafted piece:
Live again to showcase the hardworking nature of these fine musicians, “Awake My Soul” is reminiscent of rousing oneself from a troubled dream, with a beautiful musical dawning to underscore the thrust of the song, “Awake my soul, awake my soul/For you were made to meet your maker.” The musical accompaniment is a perfect pairing to underscore the feeling of a night to day transition with their heartfelt delivery making for another spiritually uplifting piece. A very eloquent call to self-betterment – just lovely.
The album ends with another more solemn song, “After the Storm.”
“But there will come a time you’ll see/With no more tears/And love will not break your heart/But dismiss your fears/Get over your hill and see, what you find there/With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.”
Certainly a beautiful sentiment with which to end the album, as it is to end a relationship, so I think it’s understandable why this song was selected to be the closer. However, there is another song, placed as track 8, that I think would have made for a more dramatic and thought provoking ending. Titled “Timshel,” its chorus is quite moving and reassuring, “But you are not alone in this/You are not alone in this/As brothers we will stand/And we’ll hold your hand.”
I love how the rather abrupt ending after the line “But I can’t move the mountains for you,” punctuates and accentuates the meaning and finality of the lyrics. Rather than being followed by the silence at the end of the album, so the listener might ponder this simple yet profound thought (especially in conjunction with the title), the song is followed instead by “Thistle and Weeds.” It’s a relatively minor point on a very well constructed album, but I do rather wish the song had the full weight of silence behind it that comes with the conclusion of an album.
All in all, the album is spectacular. It was voted the year’s best by Current listeners, and their show at First Avenue was likewise voted best concert, which I still highly recommend. Cleverly infused with literary references, Sigh No More is a profound, thoughtful and spiritually uplifting album from beginning to end and well worth the investment for any music lover to add to their collection.