In an interview with the New York Magazine’s culture site, Vulture last year, the Mumfords’ banjo player Winston Marshall was asked whether his band had "killed" the banjo. His response: “I think 'killed' is an understatement. We murdered it. We let it, yeah – fuck the banjo. I fucking hate the banjo.”
It was difficult to know how much weight we should give to that comment at the time given that in the same interview Marshall also claimed the band was over and that he’d given up music and moved on to a career in mass catering.
Judging by new single “Believe”, and an intimate gig at London’s Oslo club last night, where they played new album Wilder Mind, the rumours (about the banjos, not the McCareers) are true: the Mumfords have parted ways with the jingly jangly instrument that propelled them to fame.
If not quite the beating heart, it was the twanging soul behind the group’s first two albums Sigh No More and Babel but, like any good band, they’ve moved on and their sound has evolved and they’ve swapped the banjo chords for electric guitars.
The influence of producer James Ford, who has worked with Arctic Monkeys and Haim, has helped to produce a more robust sound (they’ve finally ditched that flim-flammy kick-drum).
Not all their fans are happy about it but “Believe” is a sophisticated, textured single, evocative of the floatier numbers by indie-rock group Warpaint, or the shimmering synths favoured by Coldplay. Marshall’s electric guitar sounds stadium-ready.
Lyrically, too, the tune sounds all grown up. Compare the cryptic mournful chanting of “But man is a giddy thing/ Oh man is a giddy thing” on “Sigh no More” to the love story that smoothly unfolds on “Believe” of a partner who’s not telling the full story.
The catchy chorus urges, “I don’t even know if I believe anything you’re trying to say to me / This is never gonna go our way if I have to guess what’s on your mind.” Simple, forthright, a sentiment that speaks to everyone.
Synthetic sounds can sometimes create a flatness to a tune, but the Mumfords have managed to use them to create a sense of power and energy that’s hard to resist. The banjo is dead, long live electric.