Mumford & Sons, “Delta”
Mumford & Sons
GENTLEMEN OF THE ROAD/GLASSNOTE
Before your first listen of Delta, the new record from Mumford & Sons, you’re most likely prepared for what you are about to hear: the band’s usual brand of acoustic folk, repackaged with the sentimentality of soft rock and christened with a sticky power-pop gloss. These songs are generally going to be very quiet—until, that is, they decide to get very loud. They are going to be called things like “Bramble Creek,” and will likely be replete with phrases such as “the very depths of my soul.”
Expectations have a way of oversimplifying things, though. Delta has plenty of those things; it isn’t without the Sigh No More–era DNA that made the band a breakout act nearly a decade ago, and large stretches of Delta split the difference between that folk-pop and the polished alternative rock of 2015’s Wilder Mind. But Delta is surprisingly ambitious in its scope, too, complete with soaring stadium anthems, serene piano ballads, sassy finger snaps, Auto-Tuned outros, and sure, why not, even a little spoken word. The closer is over six minutes long.
The result is an album admirable for its reach, but simultaneously exhausting and underwhelming in its execution. The band is certainly more focused here than on the curiously deflated Wilder Mind, but too often appear to be straining to impress. To make matters worse, the songwriting ranges from average to abhorrent. All situations and emotions expressed here are reduced to their most simplistic: love (“If I say I love you, well, then, I love you”); departure (“Before you leave, you must know you are beloved”); domesticity (“It took a wild heart to tame mine”). Even when a song finds a groove, such as the soaring single “Guiding Light,” it winds up neutered by its own banality: “Even when there is no star in sight, you’ll always be my only guiding light.”
Delta feels like a new phase for the band, as they’re no longer transparently chasing what they think their fans want (Babel) or what the radio might want (Wilder Mind). This record has even been billed as “wildly experimental” by some. But for all that breathing room, there isn’t a song here that couldn’t soundtrack the movie trailer for some teen tearjerker. Despite the band’s newfound creative liberation, the results still feel profoundly, frustratingly empty.