Monday, August 2, 2010

Album Review: 'Sigh No More' by Mumford and Sons

So I thought I would break with tradition and head out on a different tack. An initial caveat of what is to come - I do not, by and large, like Christian music. The oldies I love - the number of times 'Be Thou My Vision' has echoed in my mind at key moments in my life are innumerable - but I find it hard to get into modern Christian music. This probably reflects my own prejudices and hang-ups, but I find the lyrics largely lacking in depth and often a full theology of God. I stand full square behind Dick Lucas: Jesus is not my boyfriend. And I think that is where my tension lies - there's far more to God and the Christian experience than singing about our closest friend, the lovely Jesus. What about God as Holy, Soverign, Judge, Saviour, Spirit, Guardian and Protector? What about Jesus leading the Armies of Heaven in judgement? What about songs that reflect the agony and struggle it is to be a Christian? By and large these have slipped away - perhaps by social agenda, modern sensibilities and theological trends, perhaps not. Either way my soul resonates with older hymns in a way modern hymns just don't manage.

Mumford and Sons are a band from Britain lead by Marcus Mumford who I know was raised in a strong serving Christian family. I have no wish to go further than this in way of background for it is not mine to share. When I first started listening to 'Sigh No More' something resonanted within me: within those words that were not mine was an experience that was. This is not a Christian album but rather a reflection of one man struggling with sin in his life and the attempt to reconcile truth about God with the fallen nature of man. How often we learn most about God in His fullness not in the 'good' moments of our life, but when we are broken and in the depths.

Consider these experiences of Chrsitian faith scattered in the album:
  • 'Can you kneel before the king/And say I'm clean, I'm clean' (White Blank Page).

  • 'Darkness is a harsh term you think/Yet it dominates the things I see.' (Roll Away Your Stone).

  • 'It seems that all my bridges have been burnt/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.' (Roll Away Your Stone).

  • 'But you are not alone in this/You are not alone in this/As brothers we will stand/And we'll hold your hand.' (Timshel).

  • 'Awake my soul, awake my soul/For you were made to meet your maker' (Awake My Soul).

  • 'Serve God, love me and mend/This is not the end/Live unbruised we are friends/ I'm sorry/ Sigh no more, no more' (Sigh No More).

  • ''Cause I have other things to fill my time/You take what is yours and I'll take mine/Now let me at the truth that will refresh my broken mind' (The Cave).

  • 'You can understand dependence/When you know the maker's plans (The Cave).
These are just but a sample of my Christian walk - I wish it were different, but there have been many agonsing moments of brokeness where God has taught me on all aspects of His character. What I get from this album is a man struggling to live with the knowledge of the God who saves and the temptations and trevails of the world. Whenever I listen to the album I have the words of Qoholeth ringing loud:

"'Vanity of vanities' says the Preacher, 'vanity of vanities! All is vanity.'" (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

and:

"The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God wil bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil". (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

We may know this to be true but living it is an entirely different matter. I think Mumford understands this and here is an album that demonstrates the brutal reality sin has on our lives and hence the glory of YHWH - He who gives us His name that we might call upon it and nothing else. If you want a different approach to God in song or a challenge at least I suggest this album - it is raw and gritty but real. Reviewers have called an exercise in existentialism. I call it God.

6 comments:

Ian Clausen said...

They say the 'f' word! Ah!

Otherwise, I like it so far. Good suggestion.

Sarah Abigail Kuriakos said...

I haven't listened to the album, mostly because I hadn't heard of it before reading this posting. Now that I've heard of it, I might just go out and get it.

I especially like the lyric in "Roll Away Your Stone" that says "It seems that all my bridges have been burnt...". That really stirred my heart because I realized that I WANT all my bridges to be burnt. I want there to be no way I can turn back. I want there to be only one direction I can go, and that is toward the cross of Christ, toward Jesus, the Author and Finisher of my faith, so I can run the race He's set before me. Any other direction would be a temptation to turn away, and while I know that God would give me the strength to overcome such things, I don't want to lose the fervor I feel right now. So ONWARD, says this Christian soldier!!! (Sorry, got a little carried away there....)

Thanks for this posting! Very interesting and stirring!!

Andy Scott said...

Mumford and Sons are brilliant. Not only are they theologically deeper than most modern Christian music, but it resonates with my (and other's) experiences precisely because it is made outside of the paradigm of the Christian media machine.

I hear Roll Away Your Stone as a modern retelling of the Prodigal Son parable, and Sigh No More is packed with Christological imagery "Love that will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, but will set you free, to be more like the man you were meant to be."

As for the 'f' word in Little Lion Man, I think it's more honest and less offensive than most mainline Christian lyrics that present a false image of morality. Mumford and Sons presents a vision of the reality of living in the world, as dirty as it is.

A great review. It digs at the heart of the album, which is a wonderful and illuminating introspection of the soul.

Ian Clausen said...

I should emend my 'otherwise' because I thought the 'f' word apropos, as well. Just trying to egg Thomas on.

Charlie said...

I'm always looking for recommendations for Christian music that surpasses the norm. I agree with you about the lack of spiritual depth to the lyrics of many popular songs, so in that respect, Mumford sounds intriguing.

You haven't said anything about their actual music, though. I'm a musician, and another of my complaints is that CCM, besides being simplistic, is musically unappealing. It lacks complexity. It fails to reach my emotions. It fails to be beautiful, and one of the things that music does (by God's design, I think) is it creates beauty and lightness within us.

Clearly, the lyrics resonated with you. Perhaps you can say something about how the music made you feel, and how well you felt it supported the tone set by the lyrics?

Thanks for introducing me to Mumford and Sons.

Tom Miller said...

I thought I would leave my comments until suitably tired and at my most verbose. Swear words are a bit naughty but excusable if very moderate in its use.

In terms of the music - it forms part of the new folk wave at the moment and so is simple, but effective. I'm alway impressed the way an acoustic guitar, kick drum and singer can convey such emotion. Although apparently he uses some unique Jose Gonzalez-esque tunings for his song which is enough to pique my interest.

For my next trick I will explain the apologetic opportunity that is the Smashing Pumpkins...