What's The Verdict On Mumford & Sons Sans Banjo?

by Alanna Bennett

I'm not gonna lie: I'm a big, unabashed Mumford & Sons fan. I had no problem with the banjo at any point, even at their peak of rampant overhype. I'm still very firm in my conviction that their "Hopeless Wanderer" video is one of the greatest music videos of our time. Their cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer" (with Jerry Douglas) is one of my favorite songs of all time (right up there with the original), and I'm damn certain that if I ever actually find myself at one of their concerts it will make me cry. And I'm pretty OK with all of that. So that begs the question: What about this new frontier for Mumford & Sons? This world without banjo? This new single "Believe," which hit the web Monday and which is our first real auditory glimpse at what Mumford & Sons sounds like in "the world of synthesizers and electric guitars," as Rolling Stone put it. So what's the verdict?

It is, to be honest, neither revelatory or disastrous. That takes some of the drama out of it, but there we are: Mumford & Sons is a pretty solid band that generally knows its own sound with or without the instrument the masses most strongly associate them with. And so this new single sounds, well, like Mumford & Sons, with — as Vulture's Dee Lockett points out — some strong undertones of Coldplay mixed in there.

And if you're curious about the origins of this particular song, here's how Marcus Mumford describes the process:

We were in Texas at a wedding all together. My best friend got married in Texas, and so the family at the ranch let us stay on in an outhouse for a week, and we did a lot of writing there. I had to leave early by a day. By the time we met up in London a couple of weeks later to demo the songs that we'd been writing, the boys brought 'Believe' to the table and I got it and just sang.

So there may not be any banjos present, but writing in an outhouse? Yep, that sounds like Mumford & Sons to me. Just goes to show: You can escape your meme, but you can't escape yourself.