Mumford & Sons may not officially label themselves as a “grown-up” group. But the mature, intimate and pensive lyrics on the band’s fourth release suggest otherwise. Your typical mainstream musical offering Delta certainly is not.
But where this latest album may sonically veer from past sounds, it stays pretty true to the band’s generally thoughtful lyrical legacy. Teaming up with producer Paul Epworth (Coldplay, Adele), Marcus Mumford and his bandmates have crafted a 14-track album of ranging, unshackled sounds paired with jarringly honest themes.
“Beloved” and “The Wild” grapple with life and death, as well as the sobering moments along the way that can stop us in our tracks. In the former song, a man sits with an elderly relative, wanting more time with her before her death: “How have I not made note of every word/You ever said,” he laments. Then he adds, “She says the Lord has a plan/But admits it’s pretty hard to understand/Before you leave/You must know you are beloved.” The latter track deals with similar issues: “We saw birth and death/ … What’s that I see?/I think it’s the wild/Puts the fear of God in me”
Songs regularly reference a battle against depression as well as facing difficult, dark moments. In “Slip Away,” a man tries to encourage (and prays for) someone who feels lost in inner darkness: “You’ll find me holding my breath for you/It’s never more than I can take/I wouldn’t have it any other way/You’ll find me on my knees for you.” And in “October Skies,” a man looks to the one he loves for strength to carry on: “The fear of what’s to come/Has been crippling me/So to your silhouette/I turn once more.”
Similarly, in songs such as “Picture You,” “Guiding Light” and “42” a man turns to those he loves—and to God—for guidance and rescue. In the first of those songs, Mumford sings, “Soaked in light/ I picture you/And in you I have no doubt/When the chaos calls me out/And it feels like there’s nothing I can do/I picture you.” In “Guiding Light,” he realizes that God is his only hope amid the darkness.
“If I Say” seems to allude to someone who is struggling with drug addiction, as well as a friend who promises to stay close by. And “Delta” likewise tells the story of a friend who is willing to walk hand in hand with someone in pain (“I will sit upon your floor/Tell of your pain/That’s what I came here for.” That song also references 1 Corinthians 13:3: “But what have I/If I have not love, I am a waste.”
Finally, love and deep commitment saturate “Forever,” “Woman,” “Wild Heart” and “Rose of Sharon.” In the first, a man reminds himself to recall his love if ever his heart is tempted to wander (“And if you doubt for the love in your heart/Think of London and the girl you’re returning [to]”). The second and third songs detail stories of a man who is captivated and “in awe of the woman I adore.”
“Darkness Visible” excerpts Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, chronicling Satan’s permanent entrapment in Hell: “There to dwell/In adamantine chains and penal fire/Who durst defy the omnipotent to arms … /Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace never comes/That comes to all; but torture without end still urges.”
Subtle suggestions of sensuality creep into “Woman,” “Wild Heart,” “Forever” and “Rose of Sharon.” In the first, for example, we hear that a couple in bed is “tangled up in morning white.” Meanwhile, “Forever” references a certain type of hypocritical woman: “And I’ve known pious women/Who have led such secret lives/Shameless in the dark/So shameful in the light.”
“If I Say” mournfully suggests inner peace can never be achieved (“Your soul survives/ But peace, you’ll never find”). And “Delta” voices a melancholy outlook on life’s end (albeit one that is probably intentionally echoing similar ideas in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes): “When it’s all just dust to dust/And that’s how it will be/When it’s all just nothingness/That means nothing to me.”
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Mumford & Sons’ pianist Ben Lovett said that Delta deals with “the four Ds: death, divorce, drugs and depression.”
And if you give the entire album a listen, that alliterative summary ring true. It’s not the first time that Mumford has discussed heavy matters, but Delta feels like next-level contemplation of these complex issues. As we’ve heard in some of the band’s previous efforts, this album is likewise steeped in deep spiritual allusions. And one of its main themes is the long, persistent walk from darkness to light.
The album has thus far received decidedly mixed reviews from mainstream critics. But regardless of those opinions, one thing is for sure: There aren’t many mainstream artists who write like this these days. Mumford & Sons tackles hard issues and wades into melancholy waters. But the group also dives deeply into the sanguine and poetic, encouraging listeners to press on even when the “four Ds” of life threaten to pull us down.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).