Monday, September 24, 2012

Mumford & Sons pt. 1

Tonight is the eve of Mumford & Sons' new album release. I like Mumford & Sons. A lot. They're smart, they're catchy, and they're engaging. Let's talk for a moment about how they're smart.

My favorite Mumford song to date is "The Cave." I'm almost certain that it's an allusion to Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" from his Republic. If you're unfamiliar with the allegory, Plato describes the way most people see the world as prisoners watching the shadow of a puppet show against the wall of a cave. Coming out of the cave is painful because we're not used to the light of the sun and full mobility. Mumford's "The Cave" and most of the album seems to be about rebirth, expansion of the self, and enlightenment. So this is an apt allusion to make. And it makes way for one of my favorite lines, "So come out of your cave walking on your hands / and see the world hanging upside down."

Speaking of allusions and great lines, they quote Shakespeare all over the place, which naturally, I feel great about. The album's name, Sigh No More, is from Much Ado About Nothing.

Here's the text read at the opening of Branagh's brilliant film adaptation:

Anyway, they use the "one foot in sea and one on shore" line in first track as well.

While I think the Plato allusion is clever, playful, and apt, I mostly think they Shakespeare allusions are just playful. By way of example, the exuberant "Roll Away Your Stone" takes a deeply morbid line from Macbeth ("Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires.") and turns it into a positively triumphal shout. I think they just used it because it sounds cool, which is fine. I'm all about that.

Other times, they seem to be using Shakespeare more consciously. I think "Little Lion Man" is an adaptation of Leontes' story from A Winter's Tale, since he did indeed "screw it up that time." (For those of you familiar with the original lyrics, this is a family blog.) Plus, his name means "little lion." I also like how they repeat King Lear's heart breaking line, "I gave you all," in the eponymous single. The line and its repetition give the song a powerful infusion of poignancy.

But when it comes to poignancy, nothing tops the delightfully melancholy "Thistle & Weeds." After a few times of listening to it, I realized that you could easily make the case that the narrator of this song is at the subject's grave. "But plant your hope in good seeds. / Don't cover yourself in thistle and weeds. / Rain down, rain down on me." Also, "Let the dead bury their dead, they will come out in droves, / But take the spade from my hands and fill in the holes, you've made."

And has the banjo ever sounded cooler than in the hands of Winston Marshall? Dang. I didn't know such a thing as a rocking banjo solo could exist, but it does. And the texture of Marcus Mumford's voice is spectacular. The way he sings "a swelling RAGE" in "White Blank Page" is fantastic. I'm ready for a new wave of British invasion.

Anyway, I'm quite excited about their new album coming out tomorrow. You can expect a review of it then!

ADDENDUM:

Here's all the Shakespeare quotes I know about, but I'd be grateful to anyone who can find more:

"Sigh no more" Much Ado About Nothing
"One foot in sea, one on shore" Much Ado About Nothing
"Man is a giddy thing" Much Ado About Nothing
"Stars, hide your fires" Macbeth
"Little Lion Man" A Winter's Tale (And a lot of the language is similar to Paulina's rants in act 3, scene 2.)
"I gave you all" King Lear

I'm sure there's more. If you find it, please post it in the comments.

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