Wilder Mind

Mumford & Sons

Glassnote Entertainment, 2015


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Because I've been on the road a lot lately, I've been listening to the free version of Spotify on my phone, and I decided to punch in Mumford & Sons' newest album Wilder Mind. The free version of that particular app doesn't let you play individual albums but rather puts it on shuffle and adds in other songs from that artist. Since I was driving, I couldn't really look down at my phone, so what I heard was a mashup of songs, some of which featured a banjo and were kind of cool and charming, and others that were bland midtempo arena-ready rockers without a lot of substance.

It turns out that the second category is the exclusive domain of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Wilder Mind, the Sons' third album. Realizing the banjo trick could easily pigeonhole them, the band switches up to electric guitars and a less idiosyncratic, recognizable sound. It doesn't suit them particularly well, as they come off sounding like any number of indie rock bands of the last several years, another faceless group of serious white guys with beards blending into the vast crowd.

Not that a band should need a gimmick to make them stand out, but for Babel, the banjo was not only an essential part of the songs but it was in service of better actual songs. Here, Mumford & Sons sounds a bit like Coldplay, so serious and reaching is their attack this time. It's disappointing, especially considering what this band is capable of and how good a couple of these songs sounded on Saturday Night Live a few weeks back.

"The Wolf" is the best of the pack (rim shot) and the most exciting, but it's false hope. "Believe," "Snake Eyes," most of "Only Love" and "Broad Shouldered Beasts" are slow, thoughtful and not really interesting or memorable. "Ditmas" shows some spark toward the end and "Only Love" turns into a soaring instrumental after the portentous opening section, but it's not enough to rescue the bulk of an album that it seems like anybody could have written.

It's not unusual for a band to change its style after only a couple of albums, particularly after one huge song that was played everywhere and nominated for a Grammy. It is unusual that a band can be more rocking and yet more dull at the same time. The saving grace here is Marcus Mumford's voice, which not only thrives in this setting but makes a case as one of the great baritone smoky voices in rock music today.

There could be a point where Mumford & Sons combines their readiness for arena-rock anthems, their love of both rock and folk, and their killer songwriting to deliver a great album. But this particular disc isn't it; rather, Wilder Mind is not wild at all but rather a long slog with little to say, that sounds pretty good saying it.

Rating: C-

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