Album: Wilder Mind
Artist: Mumford & Sons
Released: May 4th, 2015
Highlights: Tompkins Square Park, The Wolf, Wilder Mind
Big shifts in sound are not, by any means, inherently bad. In fact, most – if not all – of the greatest rock bands to ever step on the face of the earth have, at some point, abandoned a niche within which both themselves and their fans were thriving to find new unpredictable waters. “Wilder Minds” is one of those major stylistic leaps, for – as it is accurately broadcasted by its cover art – it leaves the explosive countryside banjo-wielding folk music of both “Sigh No More” and “Babel” behind to embrace tunes that emit an aura that is contemporary, urban, and nocturnal. Mumford & Sons depart from a farm town and head towards a bustling metropolis and – in the process – they fall into a hole.
The issue here is not that the songs are mostly bad; Marcus Mumford’s gifts as a songwriter and his knack for uncovering anthemic melodies that are born to sustain huge choruses would never allow such a result. The problem is that his band hops out of the indie folk bandwagon that was getting a bit too crowded – albeit one whose rise and establishment they were mostly responsible for, and end up climbing aboard a chariot that is even more packed. In the attempt to reinvent themselves, they – instead of breaking into new ground, as great bands will often do – become an indistinguishable blob among the mass of prefabricated bands whose only goal is making it to the of the charts. Popularity is not necessarily negative, but when it is achieved by conforming to the norm, it is rather dull.
There are redeeming moments to be found here and there. Among the electronic pulses, the layers of lush production, and the guitars – which frequently tread the angular line so vastly explored by The Strokes, Interpol, and Franz Ferdinand, some tunes truly soar. “Tompkins Square Park” has a relentless forward motion that peaks when its remarkable chorus kicks in; “The Wolf” features a glorious guitar explosion packed with hooks; “Wilder Mind” is a sad ballad in disguise; and both “Snake Eyes” and “Just Smoke” have strong traces of the catharsis-inducing choruses found in “Sigh No More” and “Babel”.
Other tunes, meanwhile, are not victims only of the production and musical direction; they suffer due to the shockingly generic writing. “Believe”, naturally chosen as the first single, is a showcase of that syndrome: a song so utterly predictable it could be safely placed in numerous records that break into the top of the charts. As disappointing as it may be, “Wilder Minds” will certainly find its crowd, because – at times – it is able to be irresistibly catchy. To those who do not appreciate the terrain it explores, though, the glimpses it gives that the old Mumford & Sons is still there to be found and rescued will work as little drops of hope that the band can come around with an original record in the near future.