Written by Brenda Herrera
In the recent release of the lovable quartet that is Mumford & Sons, anyone looking for another folk-rock banjo infused album might find themselves in a very difficult and dark place. This foursome first found success with their signature sound which consisted of quirky, fast paced licks alongside prominent accordion and bass parts. In the release of their third album, Wilder Mind, there is no clear indication that you might be listening to the same band that was well-known for the folk sound. Artists and musicians alike all go through an awkward phase in which they reinvent themselves to prove to themselves they can continue to grow artistically and deliver more than what is expected of them. Bob Dylan did it. Radiohead did it. Therefore, it is far from uncommon to see bands at such heights in their career take on a new direction to their sound. Their last studio album, Babel (2012), sold 600,000 copies in its first week alone, so it would have been fairly simple for this group to release a single equivalent to their last successful one, “I Will Wait.” Instead, this daring quartet released “Believe” as their first single off their new album.
In the first listen of Wilder Mind, it might be extremely overwhelming to find none of the tracks are on the same level and energy as their previous works like “Babel” and “The Cave.” However, once you get past the initial shock of such a radical change for a group with this much success you will find some very memorable tracks amongst the mixed collection of mellow electric guitar melodies to arena-like rock ballads. As a lead single “Believe” was not as promising as expected for the first taste of this completely new sound. It is the type of song most likely to be found at the end of a set list of any popular rock band playing in arenas filled with lighted cellphones and lighters. Throughout the album, the songwriting is deeply interpersonal and emotional as it relates to overcoming troublesome relationships and regrets. Not too far off from lyrics you may find on any love-stricken Coldplay album.
In tracks like “Monster” and “Broad-Shouldered Beast” you might find yourself deeply connected to the touching lyrics as they grow on you after every careful listen, or you might find yourself hitting the next button. These songs exemplify the best of Marcus Mumford’s developed songwriting abilities, with his way of singing with a profound defenselessness that makes them easily relatable to his feelings of devastation and disappointment. Not all the slower-paced songs on this album will place you in an intensely emotional forsaken place. In the track “Cold Arms”, you are uplifted and moved from a spirit of letting go as well as very intrigued to hear this song in an acoustic set. With this album you either find yourself in a very emotional paralyzing state or in electric cheery mood from the urgency of electric guitar driven tracks. “Snake Eyes,” one of the better tracks of the album, captures you with the opening guitar part that embraces the menacing opening verse by Mumford decreeing “I can tell, you will always be danger”, which ultimately denounces everything we have come to expect of this band. Some of the more memorable track are very reminiscent of the sounds and riffs found in the rock songs of circa late nineties bands. While tracks like “Tompskins Square Park” and “The Wolf” may trigger a similar excitement and attractiveness expected to be found in a Mumford & Sons track, they by no means replicate their previous works.
To say the least, the album tries really hard to differentiate itself throughout from anything else Mumford & Sons has released in the past. Many tracks, like the album’s title track “Wilder Mind,” indicate some hope that their previous beloved sound has not dissipated completely, but only through time can we hope that this quartet can deliver a sound they fully embrace. Although some of the tracks are memorable, perhaps in their next album they will be able put together something better from start to end. Lyrically, Wilder Mind delivers on many levels since it shows a growing sense of maturity of a band that is one of the best in their genre. Their album is well executed, but they are missing the distinctiveness they once had that made them stand out from every other band. In this drastic change in musical direction, they have proven to be serious musicians looking to challenge themselves artistically in every step of their career. Fans should be thankful for them not conforming completely to what they already know, but they definitely still have some way to go to find the happy medium from their previous album, this album, and the next.
Key Tracks: “Snake Eyes,” “Only Love,” “Tompskins Park,” “The Wolf”