Pop Song Review: Mumford & Sons, “Believe”

Two singles reviews for you this week to make up for last week’s dearth. Today’s pop song review is “Believe”, the comeback single from Mumford & Sons.

First impressions: Huh. Turns out Mumford & Sons without the banjo is… actually pretty tepid.

The music: Much has been said about Mumford and Sons going “electric”, a statement obviously intended to draw comparisons with the infamous “Electric Dylan” hysteria of 1965. Here’s the Wikipedia article on the subject if you’ve nothing else to do today. Does it all mean anything, though?

Well, they’re not exactly sounding like Black Flag, but it is kinda different, I guess. The majority of the song is comprised of these sleepy electric organ chords accentuated by faint guitar highly reminiscent of Coldplay. In fact, is it me or is Marcus Mumford doing a Chris Martin impression? The song is very synthesised, which makes me wonder if by going “electric” they didn’t actually mean “electronic.” Then the guitar slices the tranquility and the song lifts into a soaring Edge-esque guitar crescendo with a decent, if not spectacular guitar solo (still, Mumford & Sons doing a guitar solo? Crikey) before the drums and a slightly-less lethargic Mumford vocal bring it all home. The melody is melancholy and admittedly quite lovely and, personally speaking, if they hadn’t bothered with the finishing whoosh and kept this as a minimalist chamber-pop ballad it would have made for a beautiful album track. Instead it’s the lead single from their first album since the London Olympics ended, and I’m not convinced it works as such.

As for other sources, the NME describes the band’s new direction as “a beefier, straight-up more rock and roll sound,” which only confirms my suspicions that the NME has no clue what rock and roll actually is; while one of the most upvoted comments on YouTube (at time of writing) describes it as “a perfectly evolved sound.” Well, considering that the basic definition of evolution is “a gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form,” I have to disagree: this wasn’t gradual, it’s not particularly different and it’s hardly any better or more complex than “The Cave” or “I Will Wait“. I’m beginning to think people don’t understand evolution.

Am I being too negative? Possibly. I didn’t care for it at first but, after a couple of listens, I have to admit that “Believe” is growing on me. However, I’ve called this a pop song review deliberately: despite what people have been saying “Believe” is not a rock song and Mumford & Sons are not a rock band. If you disagree, please familiarise yourself with some Virginmarys and then get back to me.

The lyrics: “You may call it in this evening but you’ve only lost the night / Present all your pretty feelings, may they comfort you tonight.” So “Believe” is one of those “no, you suck” diatribes that modern metal bands are so weirdly fond of. Done right these can be quite cathartic, expressing the writer’s frustration and exhaustion with deft maturity; done wrong they just come off as whiny and kinda pathetic. I’m still not sure where this line lies, though the references to “evening” and “night” do at least tie in nicely with the weariness of the music. Also, did these guys just rhyme “night” with “tonight”?

“And I’m climbing over something, and I’m running through these walls.” Is he by any chance climbing over the same walls he’s running through? Wait, hang on, I read “running through these walls” as some sort of fenced maze scenario. Do I get the impression, then, that he can actually smash through walls like the Kool-Aid Man? Why would he need to climb over anything if he had that sort of strength? I’d never open another door again.

“I had the strangest feeling your world’s not what it seems / So tired of misconceiving what else this could’ve been.”  She’s delusional about her personal reality, he’s exhausted with misguided expectations. It’s the original Odd Couple! It is nice that they’re at least hinting at what’s caused the friction, though. I appreciate that.

“I don’t even know if I believe / Everything you’re trying to say to me.” I think “anything” would’ve been a sharper word choice there. It gets the desperation of their fraught relationship across better than “everything” does. “I can’t believe everything you say anymore. Some stuff I can, of course, but not everything like I used to. I was pretty gullible, wasn’t I? Yeah, I’m in a better place now.”

“So open up my eyes, tell me I’m alive.” Now there’s a weird image for a pop song. Great for a horror flick, though.

“Say something, say something, something like you love me / Less you want to move away from the noise of this place.” Move away! Make it work! This place sucks and I know there’s still something good between you two. I know there–sorry, just gushy, touchy, romantic Archbudgie slipping out of his cage for a second there. All apologies. It won’t happen again.

Verdict: “Believe” is a fair, if not great comeback for Mumford & Sons. Despite the promised bells and whistles of the electric direction it’s too bland and too similar to their earlier work to win over a legion of new fans, while those who enjoy the band’s brand of pop-folk might actually be put off by–eh, who am I kidding? With the pull these guys have this’ll easily hit top ten, regardless of how good or bad it is. Speaking of which, 3 out of 5. I’m really going to have to start handing out a different rating soon.

Today’s double-up is something a bit livelier: “Don’t Believe Her” by Scorpions.

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