I have to admit, this album review is the hardest one I’ve done so far. Marcus Mumford really took the banjo music criticism to heart, and has completely changed his music to an indie/alternative rock.
With the sudden switch of producer for ‘Wilder Mind’, it only seems a risk until you find out exactly who they’ve called in to help out Aaron Dessner, from indie rock icons, The National, started the initial sessions, and the album itself was overseen by Haim, Florence And The Machine and Arctic Monkeys producer James Ford.
Marcus and his bandmates pull back on their galloping strum and shout-along harmonies, moving in striped back vocals for are new album. On 2010’s Sigh No More and 2012’s Babel, he often sang in a barrel-chested growl. Here his singing is more restrained and agile, I’d say he’s not putting enough passion in his voice. In some songs the slow pace works, but in most songs he needs to be shouting the lyrics, with just as much passion in songs like ‘Babel’ and ‘I Will Wait’.
The influence of Dessner’s band is clear from the start, not just in the New York-based title of opening track ‘Tompkins Square Park’ – which references a small East Village patch of green favoured by Hare Krishna monks and hipster dog walkers – but its driving bursts of melancholy. There are some similarities to The National’s music, Before Marcus Mumford’s tobacco-glazed vocal sparks into life, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a particularly rousing offcut from The National’s 2010 album ‘High Violet’, complete with a propulsive chorus that nudges itself into ‘The War On Drugs’ territory of rock music.
Next track ‘Believe’ follows, with twanging guitars and pounding riffs. It’s far from typical of the record though, something which will come as good news to those that hated the same banjo filled tunes. Second single ‘The Wolf’ is far more substantial, a thrusting and unforgiving three-and-a-half minutes that flaunt the band’s commitments for rock music.
The record’s unmitigated massive moment is the unrelenting ‘Ditmas’, named for Ditmas Park, the Brooklyn district the bulk of The National call home. A desperate purging of love and loss, its four-to-the-floor beat is Mumford & Sons at their most enthralling; a band not just refusing to be pigeonholed in the waistcoats and acoustic hoe-downs of the past, but propelling themselves into the future by way of vast licks, emotive lyricism and one hell of a catchy melody. The major key revelry of ‘Just Smoke’ and tumbling fury of ‘Snake Eyes’ plug into a similarly widescreen vision, the band’s sound boosted immensely by the introduction of an actual drum kit, as opposed to the lonesome kick-drum Marcus has been booting about for the past six years.
Yet softer moments remain: the earthy harmonies of ‘Hot Gates’ offer hushed reverence, and the delicate ‘Cold Arms’ lets a lone electric guitar ring out as Marcus sings of lovers betrayed and left “all torn up”. ‘Only Love’ is the perfect synthesis of the two distinct elements of this album, and, in turn, its makers, a whispered build-up bursting into a gigantic beast, brimming with passion and banging guitars.
One of our staff writers added; “For me, the passion was lost in this album. What I loved about Mumford was the screaming and the shouting and the higher range of vocals that Marcus Mumford provided. Although I think the album is absolutely stunning with a new wave of synthetic sounds and interesting patterns, I can’t help that feel that with the right kick up the arse, this would be the best album of 2015 by a mile. It’s a bit like coke and diet coke. Diet coke’s great, but it’s not quite coke.
Overall, Wilder Mind is almost the best album of the year so far. It just lack that extra something. Something special from Marcus Mumford to push the album up to the top level of the music world.