The sixth track on Wilder Mind is “Monster,” and it’s a slow melancholy reverie on a relationship that actually does have hope for survival, though not without a letting go of ambition. Ringing electric guitar, gentle harmonies, and an easy-going melody give the song a thoughtful, near-bluesy relaxing feel. It’s the kind of song you could listen to quietly as you drift off to sleep, and it’s available on Amazon!
The lyrics, however, are still intense. The song depicts a heavy resolve on Mumford’s part and a friend torn between dreams and a relationship; it also represents the band’s regular once-an-album use of the f-word. Other than that, “Monster” stays true to the Wilder Mind formula of contemplative and tightly written lyrics about difficult relationships.
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— Clifford Stumme (@CliffordStumme) June 9, 2015
Mumford doesn’t absolutely clarify whether the subject of the song is a male friend or a female romantic interest, so the song has two very strong possible meanings. Whoever the person is, Mumford depicts him or her as a dangerous risk-taker willing to jeopardize his/her relationship with Mumford.
Assuming the person is female, “Monster” is about a woman who risks too much for success and ignores Mumford. Mumford sings that she was “up / Throwin’ dice in the dark.” She took a chance with success, but Mumford saw her “come to harm.”
Even while she was dancing “in the devil’s arms,” Mumford’s friend was in danger; her aspirations were actually the “devil” and a serious danger to herself. There’s an old saying that Mumford may be referencing here: “If you dance with the devil, remember it’s he that calls the tune.” Mumford suggests the similar idea that his friend is in more trouble than she realizes.
In the next stanza, Mumford bemoans how “[t]he night kept coming / Really nothing I could do.” He watches helplessly as his friend is taken advantage of. In addition, either Mumford or his friend has “Eyes with a fire unquenched by peace,” suggesting restlessness and dissatisfaction, but really neither is happy with the current situation. The woman wants more, and Mumford wants her. Mumford ends the stanza with the sentiment, “Curse the beauty. Curse the queen.” He hates this woman’s aspirations; he wants this night of their relationship to end and for her to return to him.
Mumford and his friend then “come / To a place of no return.” Mumford wants her to choose him, and it appears that if she doesn’t, he will have to leave even though he loves her strongly: “Yours is the face that makes my body burn.” Assuming that they do stay together, Mumford makes it clear that their sons will know to “[c]urse the beauty. Curse the queen.” They will know to avoid women who value ambition over relationship.
Mumford continues, “So when you’re weak / When you are on your knees / I’ll do my best with the time that’s left.” Even when she comes to the end of her abilities and strength, Mumford’s quiet and steady strength will still be there to support his friend in whatever way he can. “Sworn with your spirit, you’re fully flesh,” suggests a weakness or vulnerability that Mumford sees in his friend. She has tried to rise above her own weaknesses, but remains flesh and has failed, at times, to do all she wanted, a failure most notable in her hurting of Mumford.
Mumford sings, “So f**k your dreams / And don’t you pick at our seams” because he wants her to stay with him and to be satisfied with the solid relationship he can provide. If she wants to be saved from her own ambition, Mumford is willing to save her by turning “into a monster for [her].” This monster could be an effort to shock her back to her senses or to scare away her temptations. The payment needed for such a transformation could be a reference to her showing interest in her relationship with Mumford.
Mumford begins ending the song by reminding her that “[n]one of this counts, a few dreams plowed up,” suggesting that his friend should return and stop obsessing over her goals. She should let those dreams be “plowed up” and should be satisfied.
Assuming that this song is about a woman and not a man, Mumford has written a lyrical tribute to his love for her, hoping that she’ll let go of achievement and “dreams,” and be satisfied with valuing the relationship over all else. Mumford wants to protect his love and is willing to be a “Monster” for her.
What if “Monster” is actually about a male friend?
This song being about a man would also make contextual sense. If so, this man has fallen for a dangerous woman and won’t listen to Mumford’s warnings. Instead, he keeps dancing “in the devil’s arms.”
Mumford wants to curse this “beauty” and “queen” because she is hurting his friend, and his friend doesn’t understand what’s happening to himself. Mumford wants to promote the normal, quiet relationship that he has with his friend, and he’s willing to support such a relationship with a quiet, steady love in “the time that’s left.”
While the woman is extraordinarily tempting, Mumford wants his friend to “f**k [his] dreams” and to not “pick at [the] seams” of the actually healthy relationship he has with Mumford. To protect him, Mumford’s willing to become a “monster.”
When Christianity Today reviewed Mumford & Sons’s last two albums, Sigh No More and Babel, they were disappointed with the band’s use of the f-word. Author Kevin P. Emmert suggested it was trying too hard:
That’s not just disappointing; that’s literary overkill. Writers and literary critics agree that when used sparingly, shocking words can work well. Provocative words can create shock and convey severity, but for Mumford & Sons, the too-frequent use of the word makes the songs feel gimmicky. I hope their third album loses the f-bomb template.
To Emmert’s chagrin, Mumford & Sons decided to continue their f-word trend with one use in “Monster,” a limitation which seems to have kept the song from gaining an “Explicit” rating.
In a TeenVogue interview, bandmate Ted Dwane justifies the use of the f-word in “Little Lion Man” by saying, “You know, we’re generally pretty clean mouthed-but a word like that has impact and it just suits the sentiment of the song.”
But the f-word being used on only one song per album still seems purposeful and could perhaps be explained as the band’s desire to be seen as literarily mature or serious. Whatever the reason, Mumford & Sons’s use of this one word remains a steady source of contention for listeners, even as the exact meaning of “Monster” could continue to be as well.
Did you enjoy “Monster”? Did you think it was about a man or about a woman? What do you think about Mumford & Sons’s use of the f-word? Let me know and don’t forget to like this post!
Explanations for other songs on Wilder Mind: