I’ll just admit right off the bat that I haven’t watched a broadcast of the Grammys in years. I use the vague term “in years” because I literally don’t remember the last time I saw even a second of “music’s biggest night.”
I don’t necessarily have anything against the Grammys; it’s just that I don’t care about them anymore. I don’t listen to hardly any of the music that’s nominated, which usually means I don’t even know who half the artists are who win are. I also have grown to care less and less about what other people say is “good.” I can usually make up my own mind on what kind of music I should like.
One Grammy Award-winning group that has caught my attention, though, is Mumford & Sons. My introduction to the English folk-rock band was a little odd. A local hard rock station started playing “Little Lion Man” fairly regularly for some reason, and I was (mistakenly) intrigued by the question of what hard rock band would record a song with that much banjo in it. Looking back, I think they probably just picked it up for the f-bomb that gets dropped in the chorus.
Regardless of profanity (and, in a weird way, kind of because of it), I really liked the song, so I progressed to the next logical Mumford step – listening to “The Cave.” Finding myself enjoying that song as well, I began to tell everyone I was a big fan of Mumford & Sons, partially because they were the first new group I’d heard in a long time that I actually liked and partially because it would make me sound cooler than I really am.
If I liked two Mumford & Sons songs, it would stand to reason I would like a whole album’s worth of Mumford & Sons songs, right? So off to Spotify I went to check out their debut project, Sigh No More. This is a great album … if you enjoy listening to the same two songs over and over again. The good part is that the elements that made “Little Lion Man” and “The Cave” so enjoyable are present in nearly every track. The downside is that those elements are basically repeated over and over and over again, which makes pretty much every song on the album sound exactly the same.
When bassist Ted Dwane described the group’s then-unreleased second album as “Black Sabbath meets Nick Drake,” I became very hopeful Mumford & Sons’ second go-round would sound markedly different than their first. But within just a few notes of “I Will Wait,” the first single from Babel, I knew this wasn’t going to be the case. Apparently, Mumford & Sons is going to be the folk-rock equivalent of AC/DC: They only really play one song, but they play that one song extremely well.
I was a bit surprised, then, when Mumford and Sons walked off with the Album of the Year award at the Grammys last night. As much as I like the band’s style, I didn’t believe Babel had enough diversity to win the award. On the flip-side, it seems every album that wins a Grammy these days has more to do with image than music. I don’t know if you’ve seen Mumford & Sons perform, but they ain’t the most handsome dudes. I remember watching their Bonaroo performance online last year and honestly wondering if they hadn’t showered for a few days.
This seems to be the beauty of Mumford & Sons, though. They’re not sex symbols. They don’t perform outrageous publicity stunts. They don’t wow anyone with virtuosity on their instruments, and their songwriting abilities seem to be fairly limited. And yet, even as I’ve written all these seemingly negative things about the band, I still like them. My ears perk up when I hear they might be releasing some music. And yet I can’t listen to an entire album of theirs without nearly nodding off.
So what does this mean? Has music reached such a saturation point that when someone comes along and does something even mildly different everyone will run to embrace them? Does it mean we’ve grown so tired of the antics of divas and posers that we’ll lift up anyone even halfway normal? Or does it all just mean I have no sense of really great music anymore?
I’m not sure what the answers to any of those questions are, but I do know one thing: Mumford & Sons just won a Grammy for Album of the Year. And that is a sad and wonderful thing.