Monday, April 25, 2011

On Mumford

The British band called Mumford & Sons has lately overtaken the space in my brain that furnishes the songs I hum. Stylistically the band is a mix of folk, rock and bluegrass. They write lyrics like philosophers and poets, drawing themes and lines from the likes of Shakespeare and Steinbeck. I aim in this quick review to examine the lyrics of a few songs on their only album, Sign No More, for what seems to me a close alignment with the Christian faith.

The album begins with its four singers slowly and pleadingly lamenting the way life is: full of pain; disappointment; hurt; bruises. Mid-song, they then seem to have found hope. The song changes styles; the banjo slung, the tempo rises, the toes tap, and it feels like they're possessed by the idea that the pain doesn’t win.

“Love, that will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you
It will set you free
Be more like the man, you were made to be.
There is a design,
An alignment to cry,
At my heart you see,
The beauty of love
as it was made to be.”

Man and Love being made, even designed, for a purpose; the notion that this purpose can be re-found; salvation from life’s pain; a future when sighing will cease…all persistent themes of the Bible’s story, all present in the title track, Sigh No More.

The vision for renewal of the "ought" comes back to us in the final track of the album, After the Storm. The Bible’s final track, the last chapters of Revelation, could have the same title. It says:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Mumford & Sons looks forward similarly, 

 There will come a time, you'll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.

Here again we have the Bible’s theme of salvation, and the new order of things, but this time with the addition of grace in the center, a distinctly Christian understanding of salvation. The idea of grace comes back over and again in the album, and each time it sounds Christian.

Mumford & Sons seem to use friendship as their canvas. Roll Away Your Stone sounds like one man inviting another to full life. The singer is the friend who in the end rejects the invitation. But the honesty of the conversation itself is a thing of beauty, highlighting the fact that giving up control of one’s life is not a decision that everyone can take.  More clearly Christian lines come from this song:

Seems that all my bridges have been burned
But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart
But the welcome I receive with the restart

The Cave sounds like another conversation in which one man calls another to shake his friend alive. The final stanzas of the back and forth, sung on top of break-neck banjo picking, read:

And I will hold on hope
And I won't let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I'll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I'll know my name as it's called again

These guys may not be believers.  One line asks "How can you say that your truth is better than ours?" Their recurrent use of the "f" word in Little Lion Man is a sign that if they are Christians, they wont be guests on Focus on the Family anytime soon. Whether or not they follow Jesus, though, there is something alive in their hearts and in their music that has been a help in my own Christian walk.

While I sat on my couch writing this review, I heard gunshots out my living room window, part of a recent uprising in traded blows between the rival 26 and Latin King street gangs in our neighborhood. Somehow the bald pain that Mumford & Sons acknowledges and owns, gives backbone to the hope they proclaim. Hope that promises the gunman and victim that there is a purpose for their creation, and that there is a love that can restore them to the men they were made to be. Hope that dares them and me to awaken our souls. Hope that relies on grace and not on a way we might try to save ourselves. Even as I write, it seems like a fool’s hope. But it is this old Christian hope that we hold to nonetheless.

1 comment:

Brian Stipp said...

If you're interested, there's a youtube video of them singing "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." I don't know how to post a link here in the comments section, so if you want to watch it, you can figure out how.