This summer, well-known British folk-rock band Mumford and Sons released ‘Wilder Mind’, their third record to date. The four-piece, known for their trademarked anthemic folk style, decided to take a creative gamble – ditching the banjo in favour of a new rock-pop sound that harnesses pedals and synth chords. The question is: ‘Has it paid off?’
What we do know is that ‘Wilder Mind’ has created a lot of conversation and, arguably, something of a divide between Mumford fans.
‘Wilder Mind’ opens with ‘Tompkins Square Park’, ‘Believe’ and ‘The Wolf’. Both of them are a burst of rock-pop energy, introducing a full studio drum kit, electric guitars, energetic bass lines and even an electronic layer to their new sound. The next three, ‘Wilder Mind’, ‘Just Smoke’ and ‘Monster’ carry this style – the title track and the latter doing so in a more calm, subtle character, continuing the steady drum rhythms and reverbed, melodic electric guitar outbursts of the previous tracks. Then we have ‘Snake Eyes’, an anthemic track that impressively displays the new Mumford sound. Following this we experience perhaps the closest meeting with their folk roots, in ‘Broad-Shouldered Beasts’ and ‘Cold Arms’. Here we return to acoustic- style finger work and, demonstrated in ‘Cold Arms’, a remarkably raw sound, suggesting that Mumford haven’t completely forgotten their folk roots. Then, ‘Ditmas’ and ‘Only Love’ initiate a resurgence of energy before we finish with ‘Hot Gates’, a slow and steady pop-infused track that draws the album to a close.
It might be a clear departure from two very strong folk albums, but ‘Wilder Mind’ has a lot going for it. ‘Believe’ is a radio-ready song that is widely marketable, but also full of feeling. Musically, the way the song builds from its peaceful and reflective manner to its dramatic second chapter – screeching guitars, a thumping drum accompaniment and soulful cries of hopelessness from Marcus – makes for an exciting anthem, well-equipped to entertain stadium audiences. ‘Snake Eyes’ is another exciting piece that builds to its climax fiercely. It toys with musical dynamics, particularly regarding Marcus’ vocals, of which show a successful effort in this album to adaptto the electric sound. ‘The Wolf’ is a personal favourite. Quite simply, it’s loud, it’s lively, and it gives fans the opportunity to dance and jump around; it is sure to get any crowd into that festival atmosphere. Lyrically, it is clear that ‘Wilder Mind’ is a continuation of the band’s ability to deliver outstanding songs. Themes of love, fear, helplessness, and pain are powerfully weaved into ‘Believe’, ‘Snake Eyes’, ‘Ditmas’, and ‘Only Love’, showing moments of raw honesty that is present in well-known songs like ‘Little Lion Man’ and ‘Hopeless Wanderer’. Much like their predecessors, these new songs are clever and heartfelt.
Though some are disappointed by this release, arguing that they’re abandoning their niche on the scene for a heavily-saturated, commercial sound (and indeed, it is true that Mumford’s new sound is shared by numerous other musical acts – take Coldplay and Kings of Leon for example) we should remember that the band began to face criticism for apparently producing folk songs with familiar patterns. Could it be that it’s the principle rather than the quality of the content that has ruffled these fans? The album is sure to add variety to their live shows, and this was clearly demonstrated by their cracking Reading performance in August. Indeed, with a remarkable Reading performance under their belts, and a World tour about to begin, the band seem more alive than ever. ‘Wilder Mind’ may be a departure from their folk roots, but it is not a departure from their musical quality.