Usually when one steps away from the group for which they’re known, it’s because of a desire to explore the possibilities outside of a single genre or idea — to break away from the restraints of the familiar to embrace something completely new. George Harrison, Diana Ross, Phil Collins, Gwen Stefani, Beyoncé, Harry Styles — the list of artists who’ve gone on to have successful careers both in bands and solo is seemingly endless. It’s no surprise then that Marcus Mumford of folk-rock royalty Mumford & Sons is already gaining accolades for his latest solo single, “Cannibal.” What is surprising is just how personal this new music sounds.

Mumford & Sons have rightfully dominated the alternative and folk-rock charts since their debut over a decade ago, spawning the careers of countless similar artists from across the world. Marcus Mumford has always been at the helm of the band, especially when the they adjusted their sound to suit their evolving style. Yet with “Cannibal,” Mumford isn’t so much taking on a whole new sound as much as he’s exploring some topics that have only been hinted at in Mumford & Sons before now. Musically, the track has the typical acoustic guitar throughout that leads up to a barnstormer of an ending — albeit more urgent and punctuated than usual. Yet there’s a quietness on “Cannibal” that sticks in listeners’ minds, a dichotomy between sound and content that makes one lean in to really hear what Mumford is singing.

The instrumentation until the near end of “Cannibal” is very bare bones, allowing time for Mumford to breathe and say what he needs to — yet his cryptic lyrics somehow give everything and nothing away all at once. The song follows a typical song structure, yet the chorus is given no special treatment compared to the verses, which stand out with their visceral, raw nature: “I can still taste you and it kills me / That there’s still some sick part of it that thrills me / That my own body keeps betraying me / There is such power there, it may destroy me / But it compels me.” Mumford has remained quiet as to the true meaning of the song, aside from that it was written during the isolation of the pandemic when he was facing personal struggles and traumas from his past — evident in lyrics like, “And this is what it feels like to be free / Even though it follows back down / Stares into the dark with me.” What his exact struggles were — horrific abuse as a child, a parasitic relationship gone bad to worse, something else entirely different — listeners may never know. But with the intimate video — shot by Steven Spielberg and his wife Kate Capshaw, no less — depicting Mumford alone in a gym performing his heart out as his emotions soar higher and higher, it’s hard not to feel something in Mumford’s latest single. As he explains about the video and his emotions regarding the song:

“On Sunday 3rd July in a high school gym in New York, Steven Spielberg directed his first music video, in one shot, on his phone … Kate Capshaw was the almighty dolly grip … I’ve been overwhelmed by the support of the people around me to bring this music to you, and I cannot hope to express all of my gratitude … When people get it, it blows my mind. Kate and Steven just got it, and I cannot thank them enough.”

“Cannibal” is not a song that listeners will soon forget. While it sounds very similar to Mumford & Sons, even amidst their changing styles, there’s something haunting and almost unnerving about Mumford’s step out into solo artistry. Yet knowing the success he’s had in his own band, it’s hard to imagine his raw energy and characteristic musicianship won’t serve him well as he continues to soar in the music world.

Marcus Mumford’s solo debut album, (self-titled), will release September 16 via Capitol Records. You can pre-order the album here and, if pre-ordering digitally, get instant access to “Cannibal.” Tour information to support Mumford’s solo album is forthcoming. Be sure to take a listen to “Cannibal” and watch its powerful music video below!

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