Mumford and Sons make it so unbelievably easy to be such a hated band. Their previous albums saw them embrace folk’s aesthetic and fused them with anthemic choruses, yet because of the fact that in many ways they weren’t authentic (they’re from London and sung in strong American accents and dressed in the exact way someone who makes folk music ‘should’ dress) they were dismissed by many. I tried hard many times to defend their honour as it was clear to me that they were in fact talented musicians who just had their heart in something that didn’t particularly belong to them. I had no problem with the authenticity and neither did many others. Yet they proved to be quite a divisive band.
About a month back, I saw the cover of NME with Marcus Mumford’s face plastered on it with the quote ‘Our new sound will freak people out!’ next to it and tried so hard not to laugh at the ridiculousness of it. I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt knowing full well that they were ‘going electric’. The fact that Mumford and Sons have gone electric shouldn’t be a surprise at all, or even something to particularly talk about all that much when you listen to this album. Because this album is filled with songs that have a similar approach to song-writing that the band always had. These songs reach for the stars in terms of attempting to be as anthemic as always, it’s just that this time they’ve been inspired by the likes of Coldplay and Bruce Springsteen. The result is unfortunately some of the most gutless rock music of the year so far.
‘Wilder Mind’ is an album filled with songs that sound like a draft of the emotionally manipulating rock songs that saturated the radio in the 00s. The vocals on this album are always pushed right to the forefront leaving very little in the way of musical innovation. The vast majority of the time the guitars simply linger in the background covered in reverb while playing very minimally, much like how they played with their banjos on previous albums. The problem is that the banjo was something that sounded good in the way they played it; when that’s transferred to an electric guitar it loses its punch. When the guitars come in on the track ‘Believe’, it sounds like when a child finds his first ever power chord so insists on trying to use it in the biggest way possible, yet to onlooking people it looks like a kid playing the guitar thinking he’s the biggest rock star on the planet.
The worst thing about this album is how shallow the actual lyrics are. Not that Mumford and Sons have ever done anything that is especially heartbreaking but it at least seemed slightly genuine. There’s no way that anything on this album came from a deep place in Marcus Mumford’s mind and the fact that the vocals are more prominent makes it that much worse. On ‘Tompkins Square Park’ Mumford sings ‘I never tried to trick you babe/I just tried to work it out/But I was swallowed up by doubt/If only things were black and white/Cause I just want to hold you tight/Without holding back my mind’. These are lyrics that could have been picked at random from a hat containing phrases from greetings cards. Because the lyrics on this album and greetings cards do the same thing: they apply to as many people as humanly possible often manipulating the emotions of the common denominator.
Ironically, the songs previously mentioned, ‘Believe’ and ‘Thompson Square Park’ are among the handful of songs that are actually tolerable. The other songs being ‘The Wolf’ and ‘Snake Eyes’ which all work on the basis that they have some of the more anthemic choruses on the album and the instrumentation seems to pop a bit more. All of the soulless song-writing is still there, yet it’s covered up somewhat. On the rest of the album Mumford and Sons aren’t just guilty of soulless song-writing, but for the first time in their career they sound completely unmoving and bland. Even though they sound like they’re trying to be a full rock band, they sound astoundingly empty. Every single drum beat sounds so tame on this album like it was simply an afterthought. They have absolutely no punch, much like next-to every guitar line and synth lead.
Instead of proving the naysayers wrong, this album confirms how Mumford and Sons were always tourists in folk music, even down to the fact that they now dress differently to suit their musical style. They’re on a new tour now – one of rock music – and they sound more out of place than ever before.
Best Tracks: The Wolf, Thompson Square Park, Snake Eyes