The 2009 Re-Run was a no-brainer for me. I allowed one other album to keep a foot in my list of options for a while, but there is no evading the fact that Mumford & Sons’ debut album will be most often and likely returned to. I’ve found a lot of reviewers have been extraordinarily hard on Sigh No More, perhaps because of its rather quickly spread success; something so loved by the mainstream couldn’t possibly be brilliant! But it is. Sigh No More is brilliant, not for its musical experimentation nor deep insights, but for its simple ability to speak of and to the human experience, with hope and stomping of feet.
The first song and title track of Sigh No More acts as almost an overture does to an opera, but instead of foreshadowing melodies, it hints at the dynamics and stylistics that make up Mumford & Sons’ flavour. It begins with emotional harmonies over a quiet plucked guitar, and slowly but surely, the bluegrassy folk band builds up to what they love most: full band at full volume, driven by a kick drum on every beat. Ironically enough, if we listen to this album before knowing anything about this new English group, the first song invites us into the middle of a story – a relationship – in which the singer, Marcus Mumford, cries, “you know me!” Now I feel as if I do, and that is one of the reasons I will always go to this record when I need a pick me up.
I’ve been listening to this album quite a bit this week, and I find it’s most effective when I happen to be feeling a lot of feelings. Marcus Mumford becomes the thoughtful and encouraging voice in my head, attempting to out-yell the negative ones. “The Cave” is one of those songs that is so good to yell out loud to yourself, whether it’s you who needs to hear it, or someone else. No wonder it’s their second biggest single and the most listened-to song from the album on my personal iTunes.
I mostly appreciate “Winter Winds” for the horns it profiles, but also the way it appropriately references speaking to one’s self. It leads up to one of my favourite tracks, “Roll Away Your Stone”, which uses its religious references to explore the vulnerability and courage of friendship.
I recently watched Taylor Swift do a cover of the next track on the album, “White Blank Page”. Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t do it justice at all. This is because the beauty of this song lies not in the cuteness of love, but in the “swelling rage” of it being unrequited. I especially like the violin lines, and singing along to the “ahh’s”. “I Gave You All” continues a rant – perhaps on the same relationship lost – and is equally fun to sing to. We end up with the longest break from full instrumentation since the start of the album, and it’s kind of nice break. Don’t worry, it builds back before too long, and even brings the horns back as well.
“Little Lion Man” is one of the most justified uses of profanity in a chorus – there’s just something about an apology that authentically recognizes how much the apologizer has messed up, and there’s something really unsatisfactory about the verb “mess”. This music video was my very first introduction to Mumford & Sons:
I listened to this album while trying to plough through a large pile of paperwork-errands in one of my borrowed offices today, and though much of the album is full of tension and pressure, the one song that I found incredibly weighty and stressful was “Thistle and Weeds”. Soon enough I was calmed by Sigh No More’s most-like-a-hymn, “Awake My Soul”. Sitting in my office with the weight of my two-page-long to-do list, this song felt like a prayer. Other times it may seem a bit trite. A friend recently asked me how many of Mumford’s lyrics come straight from one of his father’s sermons. Well, either way, the result is sing-along-able tracks that, even if cliche’d, work great.
“Dust Bowl Dance” kicks it back into pressure mode, but at least the two songs are broken up long enough so that my shoulders don’t explode from tension. The final track, “After the Storm” is appropriately titled after this rush of an album. We leave the album with some stark images of death, fear, and loneliness, but also some words of comfort (“love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears”) in this lullaby. It’s a song I can sleep on, or, as I have often done, return back to the beginning of Sigh No More.