What Mumford has discovered, along with his masters at Universal, is that this goopy, self-serious emotionalism sells like crazy. And since he apparently has no interest in new musical ideas, you end up with a relentlessly monotonous body of work that amounts to more of a brand than an oeuvre.
Ann Powers discusses the similarities between neo-folk darlings Mumford and Sons and megachurch worship music:
Mumford and his band connect with a different lineage, an approach that honors music’s ability to unite and create an aura of ennoblement. It’s long proven powerful with audiences and highly problematic for certain music listeners I’d cautiously call elites — people like me, who write about music for a living, or others who’ve built lives around a particular rock ‘n’ roll code.
… to deny that widely shared notions of being good and strong and fulfilled — the things Marcus Mumford sings about — don’t have power is to dismiss a lot of what lives in people’s hearts. Some might cringe at the banality of it all; others will celebrate the common chord this band strikes and call it extraordinary. Neither response fully recognizes that the prosaic nature of this music is the point. Mumford & Sons aren’t changing the world that much, but they’re living loud in their little corner.
It’s an extremely good essay and a provocative theory, but Powers misses a few things. First, it’s a mistake to leave out the obvious disjuncture between Mumford and Sons’ down-home earnestness–which is a sham anyway, Marcus Mumford went to Kings College School–and the fact that the band tours the world and sells millions of albums distributed by Sony (in this country). It’s a Marxist-style critique, but who cares. Playing a banjo onstage at the Grammys is different than playing it on a porch in Kentucky.
Second, there’s a word that ought to appear that doesn’t. That word is Protestant. Mumford and Sons’ soul-baring emotionalism is quintessentially Protestant, and to me it seems like the strongest link between the two things Powers is talking about.