Mumford and Sons Ditch the Banjo: but that’s not actually the surprising part
Mumford and Sons are going electric and the biggest surprise is that anyone is surprised at all. Rolling Stone published an article announcing the May release of Mumford’s third album, Wilder Mind, in which band members explain that they are ready for something new after touring off of the 2012 Babel, citing their “broader taste in music” and disinterest “in doing a sort of Babel 2.”
But the bigger story is the fact they are not “gig testing” any of the music before the album release. Rolling Stone, and I am sure many other music journalists about to make a comment on the “daring switch from their sound,” are completely ignoring this very large fact. Well over half of the songs found on Babel were played and tweaked during live shows leading up to its debut. As the larger shows loomed prior to the 2012 album release, Mumford and Sons filled in their sets with these new work-in-progress songs. This process was nothing new for them, because they utilized the same method before the 2009 release of Sigh No More. Of course, back then they were just starting out as a band and would have to play new songs before an actual official album release (they had produced a few EPs prior to 2009).
In many ways this method appears to come from both a past lack the confidence and lack of songs to fill an hour and half show. The reality is they toured from 2008–2013 with between twelve and twenty-six songs (with a couple of EP singles and covers thrown in). Mumford and Sons headlined festivals like Glastonbury and Coachella and sold out arenas on ONLY twenty six songs.
Producing an album with music that has never been heard and “surprising” listeners with a more electric sound shows a band who has gained confidence through collaboration, experience and simple maturity. Through their fairly quick rise, they have been welcomed into music circles that have exposed them to some of the greasiest musicians in the world right now. Marcus Mumford’s work with T Bone Burnett on the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack and The New Basements Tapes alone mark a maturity in the band. But it is also Ben Lovett’s record label Communion and Winston Marshall’s guest guitar playing that bring them into a respected musical fold. There is no wonder that they are ready to release this new music without testing it out live.
It is the right time for Mumford and Sons to mix it up a bit. The full time drummer and the brand new songs will reinvigorate their live shows with energy and quality of sound.