Music Review: “Believe” by Mumford and Sons
I’m writing these thoughts on the new Mumford & Sons track immediately after listening to it for the first time. It’s hard for me to gauge exactly how I feel about a song after only one listen, so my feelings could be entirely different by even the next time I revisit it. However, I want to express my raw, half-digested thoughts on this new track because it’s in such sharp contrast to anything the band has done before.
After the release of their sophomore, Grammy-winning album “Babel”, Mumford and Sons faced an abundance of criticism from music fans for the album’s perceived rehashing of the established sound of their debut album, “Sigh No More”. While its hard to argue that the band did much to change up the formula between these to releases, I myself enjoyed “Babel” and didn’t necessarily mind that it was so stylistically of a piece with “Sigh No More”. To me, Mumford and Sons offer something very unique in the current pop music landscape, and their folksy charm is essential to that.
All of this is to say “Believe” offers a pretty obvious departure from that established sound, as it appears the group has taken the criticisms following “Babel” to heart. The question then, which nearly every other popular group from The Beatles to Green Day to Coldplay has had to face following a paradigm shift, is this: How does this song balance the new direction the band is taking with the qualities that made them so popular in the first place. The answer to this question, for me, is a bit of a mixed bag.
The defining quality of Mumford and Sons sound, once you strip away the acoustic folksy banjo aesthetic, is the immediately identifiable timbre of Marcus Mumford’s voice. Thankfully, even though “Believe” embraces a more electronic infused alt rock aesthetic, there’s been no attempt to alter the soulful cadence of Mumford’s vocals with auto-tune or any number of post-production modulations. His voice remains the consistent foundation on which to build this new sound, but I fear this song doesn’t entirely take full advantage of his vocal qualities. The song starts with Mumford singing in a lower register, the typical approach of the pre-existing Mumford formula. However, I kept waiting for the song to swell into the kind of ethereal climax that Mumford and Sons have always done so well. Although the vocal does pick up towards the end, I didn’t feel the same sense of elation I did when listening to singles like “The Cave” or “I Will Wait”, which followed in this soft-to-loud dynamic. I am intrigued but also somewhat skeptical of this new direction for the group, though this song definitely warrants further listening.