I’ve been a bonafide Mumford & Sons fan for a long time now; their debut album Sigh No More is still one of my favourites and I defended their follow up Babel to everyone I knew when they said all the songs sounded the same. Because of this, I approached their third offering, Wilder Mind, somewhat nervously. On the build up to its release, I’d heard that this album was going to offer something new and exciting from the band, and while they denied that there had been any “burning of banjos”, it seemed they’d moved away from their nu-folk roots to something decidedly rockier. Still, I tried to be objective in reviewing this new material.
The singles that the band released leading up to the full album did nothing to reassure me. The first offering, Believe, reminded me (dare I say it) of Coldplay with its slightly bland melody and less lyrical prowess than I’m used to. The Wolf was a slight improvement, Snake Eyes even more so, but all singles failed to pack the punch that Mumford classics such as Little Lion Man or I Will Wait did. Although, it should be noted that I only noticed one set of “har-har’s”, which is a welcome change.
However, there are stronger moments on the album, which seems to pick up in its second half. Broad- Shouldered Beasts shows some of the classic Mumford rhythm, Ditmas has a strong chorus and good belt-along potential, and Monster is a welcome break from the heavier tracks. This last song highlighted to me what seems to be missing in this record, however. Previously, between the hyperactive banjo- bashing, there have been raw and delicate moments, such as After the Storm or Where Are You Now. On Wilder Mind, even the more vulnerable moments are veiled in the new rocky tone, so that there is a Vaccines-esque cloaking of sad songs in happy tunes, and although Mumford do head-bangers well, Marcus’ voice is well suited to heart-wrenching ballads. The lack of fluctuation between gentle and rocky means that the album comes across as a bit monotonous, with most tracks blending together, not necessarily in a good way. Part of this, I think, is due to a lack of spotlight on the other three members of the band. In previous albums, although Marcus is the singer, the others’ voices are usually strong in their harmonies. In Wilder Mind, there are only a couple of songs where you can hear Ted, Ben, and Winston, and I think they - and the variety they give - are missed. You can, however, hear their new permanent drummer, which actually changes their sound dramatically. In a way, it makes them sound more like everyone else.
Although the new material isn’t as up my street as their first two albums, I have to respect Mumford & Sons for breaking out of a mold that was extremely successful. Their second album, while not quite as critically acclaimed as their first, gained them huge success in Britain and across the pond, winning them the Best British Group Brit, and Record of the Year Grammy. Although there was a large backlash from indie- kids who claimed the band were too mainstream after the success of Babel, the mainstream celebrated the fact that they were more alternative than other Top 40 artists. It was a bold move, then, to throw away a formula they knew was working, swapping tweed waistcoats for leather jackets. A risk that seems to have paid off, however, with Wilder Mind going straight to number one on the British charts.
All in all, Wilder Mind stands out from Mumford & Sons’ first albums, while also paling in comparison; it seems to me that while the band stood out as a folk act, they’re average as a rock band. However, I do believe that this album is one that grows on you with every listen, and there are some good songs buried in the mediocrity. Overall, I think the band should be commended for not carrying on the same track because it was working, and I’m excited to hear the next album which they promise will be a quick release, to see where else this band can take themselves, and us along with them.