Release Date: Nov 16, 2018
Record label: Glassnote
The Lowdown: The last time Mumford and Sons released a full-length record, it was 2015, when the band caught flak for Wilder Mind and its hard swerve into the world of arena-rattling alt-rock guitars. Three years later, they’ve reconvened with mega-pop producer Paul Epworth (Adele, Coldplay, Florence + the Machine) for Delta, a record that further eschews their mandolin-filled glory days for material touted elsewhere as the band’s most experimental to date. The Good: Anyone worried that “experimental” might translate to “Marcus Mumford Presents: Metal Machine Music II” can rest easy: Delta is a Mumford and Sons record through and through, one packed with big, earnest music about big, earnest topics (in this case, mostly the grief of loss, especially the romantic variety).
One of the biggest bands in the world have reinvented themselves once more, turning in a wildly eclectic record that veers from lush orchestral arrangements to indie R&B. Their adventurousness must be applauded There's a track on Mumford & Sons eclectic fourth record, 'Delta', that has three banjos layered on top of one another. It's called 'Woman' and is, somewhat improbably, a foray into slinky R&B.
Modern rock isn't dead--it's just weightless. Save for the occasional nostalgia act attempting to rattle the terra firma, most radio-ready bands in the ailing musical genre have recently ditched the riffs for glassy keyboards, echo-soaked percussion, and vocal affectations as wispy as the white trail of an e-cigarette. Even Arctic Monkeys--a band that spent much of the past 16 years wielding six-stringed weapons with such old-fashioned macho swagger that they dressed up like goddamn greasers to promote 2013's AM--have packed up their guitars and launched themselves into zero gravity, lunar taquerías and all.
A series of surprisingly coherent and original steps forward...followed by a series of steps both backwards and sideways. There's a camp of critics who will crucify Mumford & Sons' every move. It's something I definitely understand, as these guys are hardly the poster boys of originality, but it's also a prime example of hyper polarization. Mumford & Sons have always been gimmicky, they've always been cliché-ridden; but one thing they've never been is expressly talentless.
Don't take the title of Mumford & Sons' fourth album literally: maybe it's named after the birthplace of the blues, but Delta doesn't have much to do with American roots music of any kind. Working with producer Paul Epworth -- a Grammy winner for his work with Adele who also helmed efforts by U2 and Rihanna -- Mumford & Sons pick up where Wilder Mind left off, choosing to expand that 2015 album's glossy adult alternative instead of abandoning its refined aesthetic. The twist Epworth introduced lay entirely in the studio.
If, 10 years on from their freakishly popular banjo-toting debut, it seems a cheap shot to have a pop at Mumford & Sons, the perennial punchbags of mainstream country rock, then ‘Delta’ is proof that Marcus and his pals really do bring it on themselves. On 2015 LP ‘Wilder Mind’, the quartet swapped waistcoats and tweed for leather jackets and moody press shots, "going electric" and turning the dials up if not to 11 then at least to about six and a half. Now, however, they’ve given up trying that costume on for size and are back flogging another set of empty epics.
O ver the course of their first two albums, Mumford & Sons' foot-stomping, banjo-led hoedowns saw them worshipped (9m albums sold; transatlantic No 1s) and reviled in almost equal measure, not least for their clumsy, rich-men-pretending-to-be-hobos cultural appropriation of dustbowl chic. But 2015's Wilder Mind was far less polarising, as they sacrificed their hugely successful USP for a numbingly boring stadium-rock take on the War on Drugs that turned out to be more like a war on staying awake. Album number four follows in a similar vein, only with even greater emphasis on ponderous balladry (beta-blockers will surely never slow the pulse as effectively as listening to Forever - it could save the NHS a fortune).
M umford & Sons referenced Talk Talk and Jai Paul as they recorded their fourth album, but the electronic touches that emerge on Delta speak less of those noted pioneers than they do synthetic nuisances Alt-J. The screwed sprite-like vocal effects of Picture You and Darkness Visible's indistinct dystopian miasma (soundtracking a reading from Paradise Lost!) suggest a new identity crisis for a band who spent their last album overhauling their agrarian aesthetic to make like the War on Drugs. Distressingly, it's also tinged with hip-hop: the stumbling beat of Rose of Sharon juxtaposes fey harmonies and Marcus Mumford proclaiming, "E'er our lives entwined.