Modern rock has had a rough showing over the past two or three weeks. New albums from the Imagine Dragons and the Smashing Pumpkins have garnered mainly negative reviews from critics. Thoughtful songwriting and magnificent chords have been replaced with atmospheric electronics, and simplistic guitar riffs.
No band has represented that change more than the British folk group Mumford & Sons. Since 2007, Marcus Mumford and company have put together their own tales of feel good imagery and heartbreak through a stripped-down version of the acoustic. Nothing they’ve done stylistically has pushed boundaries within the genre however.
Aside from their few radio hits in the past, Mumford & Sons have failed to introduce any meaningful thematic concept within their music, especially when it comes to their triumphant stories. Their ballads are just as empty as the new Imagine Dragons record. And unfortunately, that still rings true on their newest effort, Delta.
For their fourth record (and first in three years), Mumford & Sons trade their acoustic guitars for glossy percussion,and aerial electronics. Sometimes this approach works, like on the surprisingly heartfelt memoir on facing your fears, “The Wild.” In fact, the band gives one of the best performances of their career, The lyrical content for once isn’t corny or quintessential, and Mumford exchanges his usual bombastic choruses, for an astute take on dealing with the ups and downs of going on tour, and how that may take a toll on an artist (“What’s that I see?/I think it’s the wild/ Puts the fear of God in me”). No radio-friendly verses, just heart. The assimilation of the bass and string arrangements at the end of the track ends up being a nice touch as well.
The same can be said for the following track, “October Skies.” The Brits put together a beautiful piano ballad that’s destined for the stage. While the concept of love has always been at the forefront of Mumford & Sons’ music, “October Skies” is presented in a mature and ardent manner.
Moments like these are few and far between however. The beginning of Delta features a variety of mimics, whether it be of themselves, or other artists. The basic guitar riff on “42” gets tiresome after the first three minutes, and “Guiding Light” represents a lack of focus present throughout this record. The inconsistencies become even more problematic when Mumford & Sons have no clue what direction they want to go in aesthetically. Do they want to revisit their prior roots (like on “Guided Light”), or do they want to enter the pop/electronic road that every other mainstream band wants to go into? Sadly, both trails are uninspired and generic.
The album lumbers along mindlessly for the most part, and ends up becoming a painful marathon by the end of it. One can never know why a record like this has to be over an hour long. The latter half essentially turns into filler, specifically with the undeniably laughable, “Rose of Sharon.” The chorus (“I will be yours/you will be mine”) sounds exactly like Vance Joy’s “Mess is Mine,” just at a faster tempo, and without the acoustic. The songwriting falls into the ongoing genre cliches that still plague modern rock in 2018.
Coldplay continues to be a major influence of the Brits as well, with “Picture You” echoing like a Chris Martin ballad from Ghost Stories. The electronic break in the middle of the track is painfully reminiscent of a modern-day EDM song (a la The Chainsmokers). There’s a certain level of twists and turns that aren’t necessarily warranted. There’s moments on Delta that genuinely make me wonder if I’m listening to another musical act. While the transition from “Picture You” to “Darkness Visible” comes off clean, the latter track is nothing more than a moody practice in mixing and mastering instruments, all presented in spoken word. The album has the same desolate feeling as a Fleet Foxes project, but without the thoughtfulness, or ability to stay open-minded.
Aside from a few atmospheric interpretations, Delta does nothing more than hop onto the undying trend of hollow songwriting within modern-day pop rock. Mumford & Sons have virtually abandoned their folk stylings, for radio-friendly ballads filled with grand percussion. And much like their contemporaries from Las Vegas, little-to-none are worth re-visiting.