Cannibal starts as a delicate strummed take on indie, the vocals are front and centre and this is right where you want them for a song like Cannibal. Which seems to document a personal, raw and traumatic low point while simultaneously being a clear snapshot of Marcus Mumford at vocal high point. The gentle and suggestive music underneath is more inline with the works of Chris Tile & Punch Brothers. It unexpectedly explodes into more familiar territory with the punitive surrender: “Help me know how to begin again”
Grace: “Well, how should we proceed?”
Searching for self-validation and self-redemption with choppy guitar and this is a kind of acoustic rock song that I haven’t heard Mumford & Sons venture into leaning on guitar sound effects and big stompy bass sounds rather than rhythmic banjo and then there’s female backing vocals rather than male choral epics. Feel good vibes 8/10
Prior Warning steps into EDM drums and atmosphere, it’s very pop oriented musically but it let’s the lyrics speak:
“I knew I had to sit you down
But sitting you down could not prepare you for another night like this
We made a promise that we always would be honest, I Never thought that I would break again”
“And all of this tedious talk, t's cheap, It's easy”
Better Off High has a smooth and plucky stand-up bass with shakers which and a kick drum that adds a gentle and slightly loose groove and a much fuller vocal approach than the previous track. Also a bigger dynamic range and far more exuberant accompaniment. The feedback like guitar solo is fantastic and really adds the final piece of the puzzle with it’s confident sense of abandon to make this a fully realised musical arrangement 10/10.
Only Child is a stripped back and intimate number, almost weeping in it’s self-pity and over responsibility yet this is pensively bluesy, old-timey and pleasing to the ear somehow more like a campfire tune, the vocals just sit right in the room with you:
“I was acting like an only child
What takes forever is a lesson learned
I have nothing to show for the medals I’ve earned”
“But I can’t reason with the past we face
I’m sorry for the mess we made
And if you want we’ll pick through my mistakes
You’ll see me crying
But maybe we could put it all behind”
Dangerous Game featuring Clairo is likely my least favourite moment on Self-Titled although not horrible it just feels disproportionately light for it’s lyrical subject manner and this is a rare moment on Self-Titled where this juxtaposition doesn’t totally work for me. Better Angels is a simple little bop that just has beautifully doubled vocals that just so powerfully enrich this songs overall aesthetic. Go In Light is almost R&B pop featuring Monica Martin and this is alright but not the strongest on Self-Titled.
While sharing a sort of a #2000s Snow Patrol vibe on Stonecatcher the input from Phoebe Bridgers allows this basic duet to overcome it’s arrangements limitations and come across endearing and vocally meaningful.
From a savagely damaged narrator with ultra raw and personal lyricism comes a masterpiece of emotional storytelling drawn from a cache of trauma as it brings a full circle end to Marcus Mumford’s Self-Titled album:
“And I have reckoned with what you've taken from me
And I killed that liar in my head
I buried him beneath the maple tree
There's no joy in dancing with the dead”
*Brandi-Carlile adding a mournful and almost country like essence suitable for a moment of gently moving on and letting go:
“But I'll forgive you now
Release you from all of the blame I know how
And I'll forgive you now
As if saying the words will help me know how, please let me know how”
I’m sorry to say I didn’t want to like this, although I feel in this review I’ve taken the position of the apologist in something I’m not super invested. It nevertheless would’ve been far easier to simply pile on and hate this release.
All in all, on this Marcus Mumford solo debut there’s no wild musical experimentation as it’s the lyricism with brutal honesty and transparency that actually steps outside of the pop music comfort zone with plenty of modern touches and excellent vocal deliveries.
Not resting solely on the weathered tropes of the past and simply put this is the most essential listening in the Mumford canon since their 2009 debut. Sure some songs are a little short, poppy and simple. But the lyricism although heavy throughout is counter balanced and centred with suitably approachable music passages that less likely drag you into their own grief and turmoil but rather without cliche; feel like they aim to uplift you and help move you forward.
Check Out: Cannibal, Better Off High, Only Child,