"Mediocre Music for Mediocre People"
- I’m of the mind that it’s better to be an outright elitist than to patronizingly defend bad music on the grounds that some people just don’t know any better. Vice has advanced the thesis that Mumford & Sons is mediocre music for mediocre people, which is at least consistent. But there’s no reason why ordinary people should be attracted to “prosaic” music, to claim that this is somehow natural is extremely unfair. Nor has folk music always been banal–in fact it used to be a lot more fun. What Mumford has discovered, along with his masters at Universal, is that this goopy, self-serious emotionalism sells like crazy. And since he apparently has no interest in new musical ideas, you end up with a relentlessly monotonous body of work that amounts to more of a brand than an oeuvre.
Many contemporary Christian musicians have discovered a similar formula. Consider how differently Christian rock functions from church music in the past. Megastars today supply a corpus of interchangeable–with both secular pop and other church music–worship songs. Bach thought he was exploring the mind of God. There was once a sense of aspiration or striving, through which God was glorified; this stuff is so incredibly lazy it almost seems idolatrous. My favorite example is the promiscuous key changes that arrangers sometimes insert for a cheap thrill that, in more expressive congregations, gets people to raise their hands. I think that’s a pretty good synecdoche for the music as a whole. There’s a risk that it rests entirely on a set of musical and lyrical techniques that are nothing but levers to elicit a certain feeling or response. It’s all heart and no head.