No one is more nervous about the upcoming Mumford and Sons album being a departure from the sound that made them a success than me. I’m the guy who credited them with reinventing music by limiting the role of percussion to a single bass drum, which I describe here in a blog entry:
ignoring that string quartets have existed for hundreds of years not using any percussion.
Most of us want Babel part two, but what exactly would that sound like? Start with the same instruments. Okay, now what? Now write songs that are kind of the same just different somehow. What if they tried that but the songs they were writing just never sounded right until they changed to electronic instruments?
People wonder why artists work within their bubbles. It’s not that they don’t care about what their fans want; it’s that they don’t know what they want. Because their fans don’t know what they want; they know what they like. Babel part two doesn’t exist. It’s an idea we have and are dependent on Mumford and Sons to create.
It doesn’t work like that, and I’m not drawing on what I’m hearing from people as much as I am on my own experience. I’ve spent fifteen years buying Tori Amos albums wondering if the next one would be great like Little Earthquakes or great a little more like Boys for Pele (her first and third releases, respectively). Which? I would wonder and then listen with disappointment when they were neither.
The next Mumford and Sons album is going to be a huge seller no matter what it sounds like. That’s not their fault. That’s due to our expectation. Art is either hugely successful or it’s buried in obscurity, just like youtube videos either go viral or have less than ten hits with the between rapidly shrinking. Their success, their acquisition of our money for their past work, doesn’t make them contractually obligated to give us Babel part two even if they did know how to create whatever we conceive of that being, besides that it would be like creating a color that doesn’t exist. Charlie Kaufmann, writer of Being John Malkovich and Synecdoche, New York (and others but the first is the one people like and the second is the one I don’t understand why more people don’t like), said that you put everything you have into writing a movie. When asked how do you write a second one, then, he answered, “You’re a different person, then, so you repeat that process.”
I know that’s (metaphorically) true of writing books. I’m consumed every time I write a book. The only thought I have about a next book is a passing terror that I’ll never come up with an idea for one because what the hell would I do with myself then? I get a pass because fewer people are reading my books, no one’s really clamoring for my next one, and everyone realizes that I’m not making money, but it would be the same story if my books were on the bestseller list. I’d be hoping for an idea that would excite me enough to follow it up with the work writing a book requires. If someone wanted that to be a book kind of like Flowers on Concrete just different somehow, I would truly have no idea what that even meant. I might end up begging them to tell me because I’m sure I would want to write that book more than anyone would want to read it, but it’s like a color that doesn’t exist, or like Babel part two.