After almost three years, the British folk band Mumford and Sons steps back into the spotlight with their new album Delta. However, after eagerly awaiting the band’s return since their 2015 release Wilder Mind, which featured a stronger pop-vibe to the band’s trademark folk, Delta is lackluster and disappointing. Mumford and Sons seem to be in the midst of an identity crisis, almost completely losing touch with the folksy, grassroots authenticity of their earlier albums, which included hits like “I Will Wait,” “The Cave” and “Little Lion Man.” The band’s more recent releases have taken baby-steps away from the traditional folk instrumentation — banjo, guitar, drums and horns — to add a modern touch with busier instrumentation and an ebb-and-flow in the surreal ambiance of the music. Delta takes it a step too far, abandoning almost all of Mumford and Sons unique trademarks — imaginative, honest, rustic lyrics and a home-made, native folk feel — in danger of becoming yet another, unoriginal alternative-rock band threatened by looming obscurity.
The album consists of 14 songs, opening with mediocre “42,” which comes off as loud, busy and underwhelming. The harmonizing of the vocals is vaguely reminiscent of gospel and hymnal songs which is further emphasized in the lyrics, “We wanna see a sign / Give us some guiding light.” However, while the spiritual undertones and harmonies recall the antiquity of more traditional music, the song comes off as passing, but ultimately forgettable. After name-dropping the song in “42,” the album continues on with “Guiding Light.” “Guiding Light” is by no means a bad song, and follows familiar Mumford and Sons themes of heartbreak and emotional confessions of love. However, the song builds into a wave of sound that drowns out some good lyrics and the comforting country twang of the vocals. “Beloved” tries to recover some ground, bringing in a shadow of the familiar folk tunes to the echoing techno-style sounds which dominate the album. “Darkness Visible” is one of the few songs worth listening to, if only because it’s so very strange. The song is dramatic, dark and ominous, and feels more suitable for the surreal dream-sequences of the movie “Inception” than a folk-alt rock band. On the other hand, “October Skies” is the most faithful to what might be considered Mumford and Sons original style (which they seem all too eager to throw out the window), and contains some surprisingly great lyrics for such an underwhelming album: “These postcard memories / evade my eyes / In the valley I’m free / but in the hills I soar.”
The stylistic shift from Mumford and Sons’s original (and beloved) Sigh No More (2009) and Babel (2012), to Wilder Mind (2015) and finally Delta (2018) has been a gradual move away from their folk to a more confident commitment to the alternative-rock genre. Yet in this transition, the band seems to lose touch with what makes them unique. Their earlier music had a strong down-to-earth vibe, and songs like “I Will Wait” and “Little Lion Man” captured a sense of sincerity, which made the band’s music so poignant. They captured the pride, dignity and antiquity of the British folk and bluegrass music, and even the name “Mumford and Sons” is an obvious play off of the traditional business and company names of the 20th century. This attempted reinvention to gain a stronger, more prominent presence in the modern alt-rock genre clashes with the folksy, old-fashioned vibe that the band’s image caters to. It’s almost as if the band is making a painful effort to be more appealing in the modern market by sacrificing what may be deemed too “old-fashioned” for a global audience dominated by the loud, dramatic thunderstorms of sound we know as pop and rock. But whether it’s from a lack of originality, or the contrast between Mumford and Sons’s image with the starkly different Delta, something feels missing in this latest album. It’s not that any of the album is “bad” (although “Darkness Visible” toes the line), but the familiar twang of the banjo and the heavier folk influence is sorely missed in Delta. Change and artistic development are good and important, but Mumford and Sons may be taking a step in the wrong direction.
In the end, casual listeners will enjoy Mumford and Sons latest album as a new addition to a probably overplayed alt rock-folk playlist. However, more dedicated fans, especially those who regularly foray into classic country and more traditional, pure folk will be disappointed by this album. Part of what makes folk and alternative bands great is their unashamed, undaunted pride in their acknowledgment of antiquity and of their roots — Mumford and Sons turn away from their beginning, and it feels almost like a personal rejection at times. They seemingly bow to the pressure of business, industry and the tastes of uniform the majority, rather than standing by their roots.