I try to keep my own personality out of my song explanation posts as much as possible, and I tried to stay objective and unbiased for this song, but I love “Broad-Shouldered Beasts” so much that I’ve got to say something about it. It’s the seventh song on Wilder Mind, and other than Believe,” it’s the only song on the album that’s filled my eyes with tears. It’s beautiful and sweet and calming and reassuring. The love demonstrated in this song is the purest I’ve seen so far in this album, and it’s wonderful. You’ve got to listen to it for yourself.

“Broad-Shouldered Beasts” is a song about the strong empathy and love felt for a person that Mumford cares about deeply. This person at one point chastised Mumford because he “was not free” and “needed peace,” but now Mumford is willing to serve self-sacrificially as a scapegoat so that this person can deal with the issues he or she is facing.

“The Meaning” 

The title of the song and the first verse show that “Broad-Shouldered Beasts” is set in New York City, the perfect place for presenting a calming contrast to a frightening and overwhelming life. Mumford develops this by singing that “[b]road-shouldered beasts fill the sky,” which, as Friend-from-Brazil Victor pointed out to me yesterday, are “Manhattan’s skyscrapers.”  The next line, “Manhattan beats at the night,” shows that the city is alive and moving like a never-ending pulse.

Unfortunately, Mumford’s friend (to be referred to as “she” henceforth), according to Friend-from-Brazil Victor “feels the weight of [a] meaningless life,” and is “wrapped up in wire,” which could be symbolic of the trials and difficulties in life that, like barbed wire, can trip someone up and trap him or her. This entanglement leaves Mumford’s friend, “Curled up in fright.”

Mumford wants to help her, so he takes her “to the city for the night / To dance under dizzy silver lights.” He hopes this will help her to forget her worries and to be happy for a little bit. And it works: “But for a moment, you were wild / With abandon like a child, just a moment.” Unfortunately, that “moment” doesn’t last and the subject returns to her depressed, frightened state.

In the chorus, Mumford sings to her, “But wasn’t it you who said I was not free? / And wasn’t it you who said I needed peace?” Several things could have happened here, but this person seems to have been a carefree spirit who had suggested Mumford “lighten up.” Unfortunately, her easy-going philosophy seems to have dissolved in the face of real difficulty, leaving her “floored by fear of it all,” and with only Mumford’s plodding, steady friendship to support her.

New York City at Night-Clifford Stumme-Broad-Shouldered Beasts-Mumford-and-Sons-3After that comes the song’s hook: “And it’s all right / Take it out on me.” Mumford is offering himself as a scapegoat. Apparently, when stressed, this person lashes out at those nearest to her. Mumford is wiling to endure this and assures her that he will not be angry. He values her well-being more than his own comfort.

In the second verse, Mumford enforces the image of the busy city around them and acknowledges that no one else really cares about them. He sings, “These apartment walls are paper thin / And no one is trying to listen in.” He goes on to agree that no one wants “to hear our doubts” or “whispered shouts.” The people outside “don’t care,” he empathizes.

New York City at Night-Clifford Stumme-Broad-Shouldered Beasts-Mumford-and-Sons-2After repeating the chorus, Mumford’s lyrics brighten as he sings the bridge:

But when you feel the world wrapping ’round your neck

Feel my hand ’round yours

And when you feel the world wrapping ’round your neck

Don’t succumb

Mumford knows that difficulties will come but he reminds his friend that he will be there for her. She can be reassured by his presence and his desire for her to not give up a hope that things will indeed get better.

Finally, the uplifting sound of the ultimate repetitions of the hook causes the song to end on a note of hope. The synth, major chords, and rising notes suggest the action of flying above the “Broad-Shouldered Beasts” of the city and above all of the problems that crowd around Mumford’s friend, an action that leaves everyone feeling more hopeful and optimistic.

Screen Shot of Mumford & Sons Album CoverWhat is postmodern friendship? 

Postmoderns love community and empathy. In the “absence” of readily acknowledgeable truth, one of the next best things is knowing that someone’s on your side. If others know what you’re going through and love you no matter what may turn out to be true (whether about the world or about yourself), then that’s enough.

“Broad-Shouldered Beasts” seems to touch on this idea by showing Mumford loving his friend no matter what she does to him. This kind of self-sacrificial love not only speaks of Mumford’s Christian background but also of his role as an active member of Generation Y, the Millennial generation.

Like many of his fellow “mid-twenties year olds,” “Broad-Shouldered Beasts” shows how he values community and empathy, a desire to really know someone and to show and feel that desire in tangible, loving ways.

What do you think? Do you love this song as much as I do? I think it’s fantastic and would love to hear what you think too! Don’t forget to like this post if, in fact, you did like it. Thanks for reading!

Also, if you’d like to continue listening to “Broad-Shouldered Beasts” or Wilder Mindyou can find them on Amazon. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter, on Facebook, or here on this blog if you want to continue getting updates on new posts! 

Explanations for other songs on Wilder Mind:

  1. Tompkins Square Park
  2. Believe
  3. The Wolf
  4. Wilder Mind
  5. Just Smoke
  6. Monster
  7. Snake Eyes
  8. Broad-Shouldered Beasts
  9. Cold Arms
  10. Ditmas
  11. Only Love
  12. Hot Gates
  • Cliff, I’ll admit I haven’t listened to the song yet – my 48 – soon to be 49 year old ears haven’t been up to it yet. But I did appreciate your insight into postmodern behavior.
    I love the fact that gen-Y’ers do try to exhibit (or at least espouse) a genuine love for others regardless of their issues. That empathetic love, though, seems to be missing something to me. I was reminded of this when I read a facebook post over the Easter weekend a month or so back. The comments were generally that God loves us the way we are, regardless of our sins/issues. While that is true, it misses one very important truth – it seems to me that He loved us too much to leave us like we were. He loved us the way we were, but He didn’t like us that way. So, He did something about it – He sent His Son to die. And that’s the part that seems to be missing from the empathetic love of Gen-Y’ers – it accepts all outcomes so there’s nothing not to like or be upset over. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with anyone so there’s no reason to try to change the situation. And that makes it kind of an easy love.
    Maybe that’s not the kind of love Mumford & Sons is talking about. But it seems like the kind of love a lot of folks are OK with these days.

    • Those are some really good points, and I agree with the main point. C. S. Lewis defines love as wanting what’s best for someone. Sometimes empathy isn’t what’s best, and turning a person from the error of his ways is the kind and loving thing to do.

  • Devin Mc

    This is my favorite song off of the newest Mumford and Sons album and it is truly a masterpiece. One of the things that drew me towards it is that I find it relatable. Most people have tried to help a friend ( in a romantic relationship or not) and found it difficult. Norman Maclean explains this as “if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.” This song is touching and greatly exhibits his vulnerability.

    • Wow, that was beautiful. Thanks for sharing that quote. And, yes, it’s a great song. Glad you enjoy it. Who is Norman Mclean?

      • Troy

        American author who wrote “A River Runs Through It”, which this quote came from. Was made into a beautiful movie by Robert Redford in the early 1990’s, igniting a semi-renaissance of flyfishing in the US

  • Daniel

    I believe when he says “It’s alright, take it out on me” he is saying it somewhat ironically. I agree that he wants what is best for her, and he is willing to take her stress because she needs to get it out. He asks “Wasn’t it you who said I was not free? And wasn’t it you who said I needed peace?”, but now she is the one that is in need of peace. He says “it’s alright” as if he wants to say “Look who’s talking” but he doesn’t want to start that fight. All he can do is listen to her and try to calm her down, while not feeling comfortable himself. He refers to skyscrapers as “beasts” which could imply he is scared to be in such a big unknown city. However, because she is also scared, he sacrifices his own interests for hers. The bridge is meant to be comfort for her, but he also uses it as comfort for himself; when the world seems to be closing in on him, he can feel her and find solace.

  • Olivia

    I was under the impression that the phrase Broad-Shouldered Beasts referred to airplanes, what with their wide wings. At any rate, both skyscrapers and airplanes are things that one would find in New York City so the meaning would remain unchanged. Just thought I would share my views. Great explanation!