Delta by Mumford & Sons – Album Review
By David Schuster
In a break with tradition I’m going to write about the last track of Mumford & Sons’ latest release, Delta, first. This isn’t because it’s also the title of the album, but rather because it encapsulates the record as a whole; starting comfortingly familiar, developing into something different and experimental and finishing with sweeping symphonic grandeur. If I were the band, I’d be lobbying for this to be the next single. Don’t let the marketing people tell you that a song that’s more than six minutes long won’t get airplay, The Smiths disproved that with ‘How Soon is Now?’ If the tune is strong enough – and this is – then they’ll play it regardless, that’s the story of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.
There have already been two singles taken from Delta. The first, ‘Guiding Light’, with its acoustic guitar, chorused vocals and banjo, is archetypal Mumford & Sons and has done very well in the charts. The second, ‘If I Say’, moves into slightly different territory, having a much more stripped-back feel, at least initially, and then some unusual string arrangements. This neatly signals how the band have been able to craft a set of songs which take their sound into new territory, without alienating the long-term fans. That’s the holy grail that all enduring bands aspire to.
“Exorcise some demons”
Within the record there’s more of this subtle experimentation. ‘The Wild’, starting with a single piano note, occasionally broken by simple arpeggios, has more space than the Canadian boreal forest. This leads into a beautifully orchestrated section that could easily become a surprise Christmas hit in the way that Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘The Power of Love’ did; not intended as such, but somehow conjuring images of snowy landscapes.
‘Darkness Visible’ is the most overtly different piece. To a psychedelic background, voices fade in and out quoting, what I take to be, extracts from William Styron’s novel memoir of his personal journey into deep depression, and his eventual salvation. It’s not surprising that the band might want to exorcise some demons, they have been through some difficult times personally. Not least of these was Marcus Mumford’s first-hand witnessing of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and his subsequent efforts to highlight the catalogue of failures that led to it.
And so, I’ll finish as I started; by talking about the first track last of all. Cleverly, like ‘Guiding Light’, this is typical Mumford & Sons, easing the listener into the musical evolution which follows. It’s called ‘42’. I can’t find any obvious reason for this, so I really hope that it’s a tribute to Douglas Adams, one of the great authors of our time, who died tragically young. In his fantastic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 42 is humorously found to be the answer to life, the universe and everything.
By chance I first listened to Delta with Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring playing silently on the TV. In many ways this album is like the New Zealand landscape; beautiful, wild and majestic.