Under the Influence

A couple of weeks ago I picked the debut album by Mumford & Sons. I hadn’t read much about them, missed their performance at the Grammys, and hadn’t heard any of their songs. I put the CD on for the drive home and broke into a huge grin – it’s a fun album, and I was positively giddy as the album unfolded track by track.

It’s a rare thing for me to read something, watch something, eat something, or listen to something without reading about it first. I can’t remember the last time I watched a movie without watching a trailer that gives away the basic premise and reading at least a couple of reviews. I almost never step foot inside a restaurant without checking what users on Urbanspoon or Yelp have written about it. In an effort to avoid disappointment by trying to weed out the banal, the poorly executed, and just plain bad things in life, I have unwittingly deprived myself of the joy that comes with experiencing something with no preconceived notions, untainted by the opinions of others.

Of course, when I got home I decided to learn a bit about the band and album that I had enjoyed so much. The first thing I read was an album review on Pitchfork. In short, the reviewer hated it and seemed to despise the band. He gave the album a score of 2.1 out of 10 – here’s just a sample of some of his comments:

It’s a shallow cry of authenticity, but this West London quartet really does sound more like a business than a band, supplying value-added products at discount prices.

By spreading their attention around so many different trends, they aim to do many things adequately– perhaps to distract you from an inability to do any one thing especially well.

…kicks up some American Gothic ambience with what sounds like the least believable stab at a murder ballad ever set to record.

They’re playing dress-up in threadbare clothes.

Obviously I would have listened to the album much differently if I’d read this review first. Instead of enjoying the album for what it is, I’d be looking for examples that either support or challenge the reviewer’s view. I would have been questioning my own taste – perhaps I’d fallen for the musical equivalent of McDonald’s. It would have been a much different experience – one I assume would have been significantly less enjoyable.

Perhaps I’ve placed too much importance on what others think. Maybe I should try watching a movie without finding out whether critics on Rotten Tomatoes are unanimous in their praise. Maybe I should read a book that Oprah hasn’t recommended. Maybe it’s O.K. to try a restaurant without searching for a thread about it on Chowhound.com Maybe ignorance really is bliss.

If you’re one of the three people who hasn’t heard Mumford & Sons in the past couple of months, here’s a little sample. I think it’s a really good album, with a couple of tracks that evoke memories of Spirit of the West’s Home for a Rest blaring from the speakers at Alfie’s sometime in the last century. But don’t take my word for it…

Mumford & Sons ‘The Cave’ from Ben Magahy on Vimeo.

2 thoughts on “Under the Influence

  1. Love this band so much! Downloaded the album after I heard a couple of their songs on the radio. I was instantly hooked. Another album I would like to download is the Avett Brothers. Heard them at the Grammys and loved them. Just need to sit down at my computer for a few minutes…

  2. I am so glad that someone else buys on pure speculation. I must admit, it is not only albums I buy blindly, but also books. Sometimes you just know a band is going to be good before you’ve even had a taste. Thanks, Chris. I’ve been hesitating to buy, but now my purchase is confirmed. I’ll just pick it up with my next half sweet, soy milk, grande mochachino at Starbucks where, yes, they are selling it at the front counter. I hope that doesn’t influence your opinion of them.

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