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Mumford & Sons, after a brief hiatus, were all about a new beginning—as Marcus Mumford told Rolling Stone, “We felt that doing the same thing, or the same instrumentation again, just wasn’t for us.” It shows—Wilder Mind sounds distinctly suited to the rock genre the band tiptoe around, infused with grandeur and percussive explosiveness. From the opening electric chimes in “Tompkins Square Park” through the familiar slow, epic crescendo of first single “Believe”, the album is a departure from their folk-inspired past efforts. The difference with this reinvention and that of, say, U2’s Achtung Baby (the ultimate artistic U-turn) is an unmistakable feeling that Mumford & Sons’ new sound is inferior to their old.
There are some great songs on Wilder Mind: biting guitars let loose on “Ditmas” and “Only Love”; the thumping exposition (“Shake it Off” anyone?!) and subsequent calm of “Wilder Mind”; “Snake Eyes” cathartic chorus. The musical change, however, is hit and miss, as best evidenced with “The Wolf”, a hungover track from Babel or Sigh No More—the instrumental sections don’t sound bad, but lack the organic dynamism of classics like “I Will Wait”. Wilder Mind also follows the same boring progression as the past two albums, with a teasing exposition, two or three great tracks, and a general petering out towards the end. For an album heralding a new dawn, there is a distinct lack of substantial difference from the night previous. “Tompkins Square Park” may echo “Zoo Station” in name, but for Mumford & Sons the revolution ends with turning the electricity on—Achtung Baby was U2 2.0, whereas Wilder Mind is just Mumford & Sons 1.3.
Great bands cannot help but sound like themselves—a fact not lost on Mumford & Sons. Wilder Mind is a fun listen, with its obligatory share of endearingly terrible lyrics (“I’ll turn into a monster for you / If you pay me enough”) that somehow float alongside some fantastic melodies. If anything, it feels like more effort was put into hyping the artistic shift than the actual engineering—without prior expectation, it may have had more impact. If you’re looking for a genuine change in artistic direction, or proof of Mumford & Sons’ musical genius beneath their novelty folk roots, prepare to be disappointed. For fans, however, there’s still a lot to love on Wilder Mind.