By: Phoebe Giordano, Contributor
[Capitol Records; 2022]
Key Tracks: “Cannibal”, “Better Off High”, “Stonecatcher (feat. Phoebe Bridgers)”, “How (feat. Brandi Carlile)”
Most well-known for his role as founding member and lead vocalist of London folk-rock band Mumford & Sons, Marcus Mumford officially kicked off his solo debut with the new album (self-titled), four years after the release of his band’s fourth studio album, Delta. Since the band’s first album in 2009, Mumford has been pushing boundaries in lyricism, drawing inspiration from the world of prolific literature, and creating a folksy feel with traditional bluegrass instruments such as banjo, fiddle, and mandolin. However, the 2015 release of their third album, Wilder Mind, strayed from their roots to take on a more pop-folk approach that has continued to characterize their later music.
Mumford’s solo debut seems to follow that same transitional path, embracing a more modern, electronic, and clean sound that greatly contrasts his original content. Yet, even as his sound changes and he parts from his roots, the quality of Mumford’s lyrics and his talent as a songwriter remains a constant even as he steps into a solo career.
(self-titled) opens somewhat quietly with the track “Cannibal”, a profoundly open reflection on the traumatic sexual abuse Mumford underwent as a child. The LA Times calls it “the most personal and straightforward song he’s ever released”. After a handful of verses expressed by just Mumford’s rough voice and guitar, the track builds in strength and picks up with a cacophony of pounding drums and more intense, echoing guitar riffs layered over the repeated refrain of “help me know how to begin again”. This track serves as a powerful opener for the album as it allows listeners to settle into Mumford’s story and understand the personal depth of emotion awaiting them throughout the rest of the tracks.
A few tracks later, listeners find a quickened pace and rock-style beat in the track “Better Off High” which begins with tambourines and bass – a combination rather reminiscent of Delta. Older fans may even recognize the repeated idiom “click in your head” from Babel’s track “Hopeless Wanderer”, though this track takes on a much more upbeat melody as opposed to the darker guitar tone of their earlier work. As seems to be the case with many tracks on this album, “Better Off High” makes use of repeated lyrical refrains and intense builds, giving purpose and emphasis to Mumford’s lyrical eloquence in alluding to the past trauma from which this album sprung.
One element that sets this album apart even more from his previous work is Mumford’s incorporation of guest artists. Monica Martin, Clairo, Phoebe Bridgers, and Brandi Carlile all make appearances in the latter half of the album and provide soothing contrast to Mumford’s raspier voice while still fitting perfectly into haunting harmonies. Following a somewhat unoriginal-sounding middle section instrumentally, the album closes with “Stonecatcher (ft. Phoebe Bridgers)” followed by “How (ft. Brandi Carlile),” both of which circle back to Mumford’s complex feelings around healing and forgiveness. “How” releases the listener from this journey with powerfully introspective lyrics that serve as a direct answer to the questions posed in the opening track, drawing the album to a beautiful close.
Although this album may not be what Mumford & Sons fans expected from the lead singer’s debut, and the melodies of some tracks may seem unoriginal to patrons of the indie-pop genre, there’s no doubt that Mumford’s honesty, storytelling, and engaging lyricism make this a memorable release, if not a step in what may be a new direction for Mumford’s career.