Mumford & Sons
It's not that, like so many other critics, I hate Mumford & Sons with a passion; I think, in fact, there were some good tunes on the Londoners' debut album, Sigh No More, and that those never-ending accusations about posh boys slumming it are pretty much irrelevant if and when the music delivers.
No, what bothers me is something that festers on a more personal level, and comes from the fact that I hear so many truly great albums week in, week out. It annoys me that Mumford & Sons are a Brit Award-winning, Grammy-nominated, quadruple-platinum, multi-million disc-selling band when I could, off the top of my head, name about 50 Scottish acts who make far better music in a similar style. Woodenbox, The Last Battle, Admiral Fallow, Meursault and King Creosote are the first that jump to mind, and it exasperates me that their combined record sales in a year won't ever match what Mumford & Sons can shift in a week.
It just doesn't seem fair. And while many Mumford fans could justifiably argue that I'm being equally unreasonable by criticising the popularity of Sigh No More in the same breath as bemoaning the commercial shortcomings of others, I do think there's a point to be made. Sigh No More couldn't have achieved those huge sales figures if it hadn't been bought by the kind of people who only buy three albums a year. If a Mumford & Sons' CD is sitting on their living-room shelf, then you know it's nestled up beside copies of Adele's 21 and Coldplay's Mylo Xyloto; maybe Rihanna's Loud is there too, but it's probably still in the plastic shrinkwrap. Mumford & Sons have lucked out simply because they're the easy choice for lazy listeners, and I know for a fact that if they just searched a little harder, they'd find music that touched them more deeply.
So it's with a sense of disgruntlement rather than a head full of snobby muso prejudice that I approach Babel. Although, right from the get-go, my critical hackles are raised. Babel is Sigh No More squared. The songs – with their big choruses, busy arrangements and sudden quiet dropouts – have repetitively familiar structures; the lyrics, now overflowing with religious imagery, are more openly evangelical in their nature. Strip out the clawhammer banjo and, time and time again, what we have here is the sound of a band continuing their onwards march to stadium status. Accusations of authenticity are barely relevant any more: Babel lacks the both spirit and soul of genuine folk music.
The heart of the problem is the straight-down-the-road, Sunday-driving regularity of the beat, which dampens the gravelly passion of Marcus Mumford's voice and wags a grown-up's finger whenever a party mood threatens to ignite. This rhythmic restraint is what happens when a so-called folk band is packaged by a major label for the Adele/Coldplay buyer. It's a genre that benefits from less, not more, production polish, and maybe that's why I prefer the lo-fi Scots who languish in the shadows.