Music critics describe Mumford & Sons’ Delta as a boring album full of “ponderous balladry” (The Guardian) that “falls into the trap of confusing seriousness with grimness” (Rolling Stone), eventually “landing squarely in the realm of mediocrity” (Pitchfork).
On the surface, Delta does not offer the vigorous energy of earlier Mumford & Sons albums, but it gives the listener something subtler and much richer. It offers empathy for those who may be suffering or grieving—reminding us that “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). When asked to explain the theme of this album for a Rolling Stone review, Mumford & Sons explained that it mainly deals with “the four D’s: death, divorce, drugs, and depression.”
An honest look at these hard realities of humanity may not be the feel-good music fans and critics are looking for, as it doesn’t offer an escape from present sorrow and hardship. However, this album has the potential to be healing for listeners by providing songs with care and perspective on their current life situations.
The band uses a wide spectrum of musical instruments, sounds, and even genres to create the space for processing emotions. At times, the arrangements wander into orchestral territory before signature Mumford & Sons harmonies and instrumentation reappear. The long instrumentals included on many songs offer space for contemplation.
Aptly named “42,” the first track is full of questions and longing, similar to Psalm 42. No time is lost as the first words begin to ask the tough questions: Where do I turn to when there's no choice to make? And how do I presume when there's so much at stake? And like Psalm 42, through these moments of deep longing, glimpses of light appear. 42 ends with the admission I need some guiding light. It is impossible to find the answers by oneself. The second track called “Guiding Light” digs deeper into this need.
Each song is carefully placed on the album so that earlier songs provide context for what is to come. Times of deep sorrow and heartfelt questions are juxtaposed with moments of healing and hope. “Woman” wonders about the wonderful mystery of intimate relationship, followed by “Beloved,” which explores the helplessness of watching someone walk away from that relationship. “Picture You” flows seamlessly into “Darkness Visible,” which ends in a frenetic climax.
The album closes with the title track “Delta,” a six-minute linear experience that ends with a few final questions: Does your love prefer the other? Or does my love just make me feel good? As the album closes, Mumford & Sons helps bring the listener out of a time of introspection, slowly building Delta into an inspiring anthem. There are no trite attempts to answer all the questions asked, but the listener is left with the renewed resolve to continue on.
Delta is a courageous album by a band facing extremely high expectations to deliver a type of music they are not currently passionate to share. They have found a new way to affect people in meaningful ways, and if the listener is willing to go there, Mumford & Sons would like to sit with them in the mess and muck of life. (Glassnote Records)