“Where are the banjos gone?” cried a baffled fanbase upon being presented with Mumford and Son’s last album Wilder Mind. ‘Rock’ replaced the rustic strumming of previous folky ballads and their baffled, dungaree-clad followers were left parading round the great British countryside sipping real ale to the sound of brash electric guitars. While I was fairly convinced it was an ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ kinda deal, others really embraced the genre shift, and saw it as a necessary creative development for the band. In comparison to their latest release however, Wilder Mind looks downright ground-breaking. Delta is the musical equivalent to bringing a really nice pasta pot for lunch and realising you’ve forgotten your fork. You were full of hope, hungry for something fresh and flavoursome, but now you must continue with the day unfulfilled and disappointed.
The opening track 42 sets the tone: a fairly structureless ballad in which Marcus Mumford flutes around a few octaves before a background blur of guitar and drums. Guiding Light, the album’s first track to be released as a single, heralds back to more Babel-esque days with its upbeat guitar strums. However, the bridge’s synths remind us that this is not, in fact, a track they forgot to include in 2012. The inclusion of synth chords becomes a regular motif, with Forever attempting a similar trick. In the interest of variety, The Wild begins with tame but twinkling piano and pretty guitar, but builds into a dramatic orchestral crescendo, like a Disney film reaching its climax (until it dies a sudden death, and the track ends with the sweet sound of tweeting birds, as if they anticipated my cynical Disney comment and played up to it).
Woman, however, succeeds in its understated simplicity, offering a more considered, temperate version of the Wilder Mind sound. It is not without its own issue though; in this track it’s the lyrics posing the problem. Marcus treats us to a cliched depiction of the unreadable woman, lamenting “I can’t read your mind” and concluding “can you ever really know?”. The album’s questionable gender themes are exemplified in Forever as Marcus reels off the suspiciously Puritan verse:
“And I’ve known pious women
Who have led such secret lives
Shameless in the dark
So shameful in the light.”
The experimental Puritan thread is shown off in its best light with the inclusion of Milton’s Paradise Lost in Darkness Visible. A passage is recited over heavy guitar riffs, drums and some anxiety-inducing piano, then the otherwise instrumental track builds to a huge crescendo followed by a sudden cut. The track is messy and confused but compared to the dullness of the other tracks it’s intriguing. To give the album its due, Delta attempts a much more ambitious layering of instruments and fusion of genres than any of the previous albums, it just lacks cohesion. The sound is certainly full on each of the 14 tracks (if people still paid for music they would get their money’s worth on this one) but it still manages to be pretty anticlimactic. Even title track is underwhelming, it’s not bad mind, it’s just not interesting.
Having said this, despite it’s lacklustre reception, the record has done surprisingly well. Delta is currently sitting comfortably in the second spot in the album charts and sold 230,000 copies in its first week of release - I doubt the band will be losing sleep over it anytime soon.