Everybody’s talking about Mumford & Sons’ new bango-less sound, but the depth of meaning and vulnerability in the bare lyrics of “Believe,” the band’s first single from Wilder Mind, should be enough to keep everyone happily occupied, even if they don’t like the new style.
For this album, the band made a switch from a folky, acoustic-inspired, Americana sound to one that’s electric guitar and synth-fueled. In an interview with Consequence of Sound, Mumford says, “It didn’t feel like a huge departure in some way, you know? It felt kind of natural to us. It sounds kind of like a jolt or something, but for us it was just where we were headed. We were never too heavily wedded to a certain type of instrument.” The intro to “I Will Wait” below provides a nice contrast for their new sound.
Of course, one thing about the band hasn’t changed: the lyrics. The band is still thinking about God, and their thoughts are still heavy. In fact, the lyrics in this song may even be a bit heavier than usual.
[According to a Rolling Stone interview, “Believe” is more a result of the band’s work rather than just Mumford’s. My discussion is of what the band as a whole is trying to say, even though I treat the lyrics as Mumford’s words since he’s singing them.]
In the first verse, Mumford seems to be talking to Christians, telling them that their view of Christianity is fine for them but that it won’t work for him. (See the Rolling Stone interview in which he talks about the connotations of the word “Christianity.”) He references their planned “pretty feelings,” and says, “May they comfort you tonight.” But instead of sharing in these feelings or this comfort he’s “climbing over something,” and “running through these walls,” suggesting a wild, unguided escape or search. Though Christians who seem to be experiencing some difficulty have “only lost the night” and will be able to continue their lifestyle even afterwards, faith is less certain for Mumford.
The chorus that follows consists of three repetitions of “I don’t even know if I believe” and one “Everything you’re trying to say to me.” This chorus seems to be part introspection and part rebuttal. Mumford isn’t sure if he believes, and he’s uncertain of what other Christians are telling him. Their faith may seem odd or superficial to him, so he continues searching for deeper truth about faith.
The next verse continues his search: “I had the strangest feeling / Your world’s not all it seems / So tired of misconceiving / What else this could’ve been.” He claims difficulty with accepting other Christians’ forms of faith and religion. He wants to understand what real faith would look like and wants to know the truth. He seems to be doubting his faith but aware of it and desiring an understanding of truth.
The third verse is more explicit, and the targeted audience seems to have switched from Christians to God. Mumford asks God to “open up my eyes” and to “[T]ell me I’m alive.” He wants God to show him the truth and leave it obvious for Him, which would make Mumford feel alive. But God hasn’t done this for him yet, and Mumford bemoans that “[t]his is never gonna go our way / If I’m gonna have to guess what’s on your mind.” He wants God to make faith and belief obvious and natural for him.
Following that, the bridge is a heartfelt plea for help from God. Mumford sings, “Say something, say something / something like you love me,” either asking God to show love by saying something or to specifically say that He loves Mumford. In addition, Mumford wants God to suggest that they “move away / from the noise of this place” to a less corrupt world where Mumford can perceive God better.
However, God doesn’t seem to give Mumford the response he wants, leaving the band to relaunch into the chorus with a tired, “Well, I don’t know if I believe.” However, instead of a third repetition of the above line as usual, he sings, “I don’t even know if I wanna believe / Anything you’re trying to say to me.” This chorus seems to be directed at God, suggesting that Mumford knows God may be trying to say something to him, but that it’s not as loud and easy to hear as Mumford needs or would like, and that he feels tired of trying to hear it.
The music video is a perfect visual for the lyrical meaning; it’s a time-lapse of driving through nighttime London. As the camera swerves through traffic among the stoplights, headlights, and historical monuments, the creators suggest a search for truth or home. The video ends in a neighborhood park with the camera focusing on the same park bench pictured on the album’s cover.
God or a Girl?
Genius.com’s explanation suggests this song is about a female, and others will assume likewise, but there is little contextual suggestion of such a target. It’s easy for listeners (myself included) to assume that a contemporary song that involves longing, the word “love,” and a 2nd person point-of-view is addressed to a lover. But there are several reasons this isn’t the case in “Believe.”
- There’s no reference to femininity in the song. Usually, in a song about a woman, the singer will mention hair, eyes, beauty, closeness, or a history together. But this song seems to be about something deeper and more abstract than romantic love or love lost and doesn’t spend time developing a character that resembles a woman.
- Mumford has a history of singing about God. “Awake My Soul,” “Below My Feet,” and “Sigh No More” are all deep ruminations on the nature of faith. Many other such songs exist on the Albums Sigh No More and Babel; In fact, with Mumford & Sons, it’s usually a safe bet to guess that their songs are not about girls and instead about God. Relevant Magazine has a great online article listing these songs (including “Believe”).
- The word and title “Believe.” While artists often do want to “believe” in their romantic interest, making belief the focus of the song is fairly unusual for a song about lovers. Usually, trust is the issue as in Sam Smith’s “I’m Not The Only One.” Belief, as a word and as a concept, is far more likely to be about faith.
Christian relationship to God is often likened to romantic relationships, and according to the Bible, God created marriages to be a picture of his relationship to the body of believers on Earth. Thus, Mumford & Sons’s struggle for faith in God is excusably mistaken for a struggle for faith in a woman.
The song, as a whole, shows Mumford & Sons in a world of Christians who think they have the answers about spirituality but who leave the band members longing for God to make Himself easier to find.
Do you agree or disagree? Do you think this song is about something else entirely? Please share in the comments below!
Explanations for other songs on Wilder Mind: