The subject matter of Mumford & Sons’ first full-length album, Sigh No More, is country—regretting, repenting and exalting love—but the music has producer Markus Dravs’ name all over it. Dravs is the guy who’s responsible for the tightly arranged room-filling music of Björk, Coldplay and Arcade Fire, and his skill at creating depth is evident here.
“The Cave” builds through satisfying rhymes and a cyclical guitar and banjo riff. On “The Cave,” Marcus Mumford sings, with almost religious conviction, about finding strength in pain, overcoming obstacles, and not losing hope. Trumpets, yelling chorus, and rhythmic banjo combine to underscore the emotional energy he puts into the song. “Winter Winds” echoes the trumpet of “The Cave,” while banjo, crashing cymbals, and a thumping bass drum surge with lyrics about love’s ability to conquer all. Most songs all tend to build into a fervor (especially “Dust Bowl Dance”) using the same formula of impassioned singing and an increase in the number and volume of instruments. Sigh No More has the energy of a protest rally without the politics. With such trite subject matter, lyrics need to be extremely specific and personal or else symbolic. The lyrics on this album aren’t either of those things—they’re just vague clichés strung together with good rhyme schemes. Still, Mumford sings with impressive sincerity.
While Arcade Fire and Björk have benefited from Dravs’ heavily produced style, which helps give meaning to metaphorical lyrics and storytelling, this style works less well for Mumford & Sons. The group frankly isn’t original enough to warrant all that reverb or all that seriousness. Better to leave the banjo, violins and guitars alone. Better to let the earnestness of Mumford’s singing speak for itself.