Last year, Mumford and Sons were the first band to sell a million records in the U.K. and U.S. since Coldplay’s Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends was released in 2009. This week they’re poised to top themselves by a wide margin. As Billboard reports:
Babel‘s forecasted sales should give the band the biggest debut week this year, surpassing Justin Bieber’s Believe launch with 374,000 according to Nielsen SoundScan. Mumford & Sons will also tally the largest sales frame for any rock album (debut or otherwise) since AC/DC’s Black Ice stormed in with 784,000 at No. 1 on the Nov. 8, 2008 chart.
And on the digital front:
It will likely lock in the second-largest sales week ever for a digital album, as it could sell more than 400,000 downloads. The biggest digital week ever for a set belongs to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, which moved 662,000 downloads in its first week.
All of this in spite of a tepid sound, tepid reviews, and a quietly bubbling disdain for the band from the more obsessively music-headed about us.
Let’s start with NME‘s sigh of a review:
Their folk-tinged, banjo-plucking austerity indie has made them rich and successful beyond their wildest dreams. If they ain’t broke, why fix it?
As you might expect from a band riding their kind of wave, there’s no experimentation. It’s as challenging as a one-piece jigsaw – but then you don’t throw on gingham shirts and sackcloth to break new ground.
Babel steps up Mumford & Sons’ game without changing it too much.
But full marks have to go to SPIN, who completely eviscerated Babel:
“Shake my ash to the wind / Lord forget all my sins.” “I was under your spell when I was told by Jesus all was well.” All this amid thoughts of Hell, clouded minds and heavy hearts, fickle flesh keeping heart and soul in place, and love that loves with urgency, not haste. These bromides are approximately as deep as Matchbox Twenty’s, and as smug as Dave Matthews’. But they’re sincere as all fuck!
Honestly, as folk revivalists, Mumford and Sons don’t even come close to ranking, and not because of Marcus and sideman Ben Lovett’s posh education (they met at Kings College School in Wimbledon, alma mater of John Barrymore and Charles Dickens Jr.).
They don’t seem remotely musically curious.
Pitchfork skipped reviewing the record – they must have figured their review of Sigh No More was sufficient.
Naturally, this is all just a roundabout way of saying “what?” How did a parroting hootenanny revivalist band get there? Last year in The Atlantic, Rick Pearson posited it was a combination of recession-inspired nostalgia and a heavy-duty live show. One of those seems probable. And whatever happened to Fleet Foxes?