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Review: Mumford and Sons - Wilder Mind

Mumford and Sons - Wilder Mind


Mumford and Sons have changed their sound, dropped the faux alt-country bullshit, lost their banjos and apparently bought some pre-distressed leather jackets from Matalan, so the least I can do is give their new album Wilder Mind a fair, open-minded appraisal.

However to save time and unnecessary agony, I’m going to write this review while listening to it for the first and only time, so it should theoretically only take an hour. If you think that Mark Beaumont, Simon Price or Alex Petridis are more professional than this you’re wrong and if they tell you any different they are fucking lying.

First impressions: Wilder Mind has that similar expansive, easy-going AOR sound of late 80s Bruce Hornsby, Mike and the Mechanics and Don Henley. By which I mean, War on Drugs has a similar sound to those bands, and Mumford and Sons have ripped off War on Drugs.

Musically it’s fairly plain. Their hayseed instruments have been broken up for firewood, and electric guitars brought in to replace them (as if four white men experimenting with electric guitars is somehow a bold change in direction) but it’s still as eye-twitchingly cloying as the previous albums. The quiet, brooding verses still gradually build into manipulatively soaring choruses, with Marcus Mumford’s nasal delivery straining to deliver an unearned emotional hit. His vocals sound more grating here, their awfulness exemplified by the bland backing.

"These blueprints prove it,
we did build this recording studio on an ancient Indian burial ground.
This explains everything. The resurrected cats, the decapitations,
the cattle mutilations, the music"

So as I listen in real-time, what's happening on the album now? It's third track ‘The Wolf’ and currently guitars are being strummed semi-energetically, drums are being moderately bashed at an equally moderate pace and Marcus Mumford’s voice has an electronic after-effect that makes him sound like Ultron’s damaged younger brother banished to a permanently locked garage. It’s not awful though. But then really nothing Mumford and Sons have ever done has been truly awful. Yeah you can certainly level accusations of them being boring, or lacking a certain amount of integrity (whatever that really means) and playing it safe so as to court the international stadiums, and you’d be completely correct. But there’s nothing intrinsically terrible about them.

Kings of Leon started off with some killer albums, then pumped out some genuinely unlistenable, laughable shit in their last handful of contractually obliged albums, all of which are far worse than any Mumford effort. Foo Fighters similarly had two, possibly three, excellent albums before streamlining their sound for mainstream accessibility and success. If forced to make a decision though, even the newest Foo Fighters fan isn’t ever going to choose a track from their last four albums over hearing ‘Monkeywrench’ or ‘My Hero’ again. Similarly, even the most die-hard Mumford and Sons fan will never choose to listen to any of Wilder Mind over ‘Sigh No More' or that one that says fuck in it.

Right we’re past the half-way mark now and I’ve already mentioned the three most boring bands from both the 80s and the 2010s, this isn’t looking good. So what’s happening now? Mumford is asking “why do we always seek absolution?” as if that’s a common word he uses in every day speech, while the rest of the band play their instruments as fast as their puny little underfed limbs will allow, but not too fast as it might scuff up their nice new guitars and they won't be able to return them if this whole electric thing doesn't work out.

'Snake Eyes' is a return to the slow-fast song structure we’ve become used to, this was preceded by a couple of slow ones that were so boring that I ended up tuning out completely for about 10 minutes and decided to take the opportunity to change all my email and social media passwords. You should do the same too, it pays to be cyber-safe ladies and gentlemen.

"HA HA HA, that was massively racist but you can't deny that was really funny"

In the final forth of the album (I’m using American sporting parlance here because it’s what Mumford and Sons would want me to use, because they like all stuff about America now) we have ‘Cold Arms’ which sounds exactly like everything else on this fucking insufferably dull album, but is at least mercifully short.

This is followed by ‘Ditmas’, a track that starts with a drum machine, a pissing actual drum machine. It’s horrible. This track again does that 'quiet slow verse and barnstorming chorus' thing. I believe we've reached a point where we can now just call it ‘doing a Mumford and Sons’. Let’s give it a try: ‘Ditmas’ sounds like Mumford and Sons doing a Mumford and Sons. Yeah that works.

Alright we’re getting through this now people. Two left to go, but hold on tight, these are the most epic tracks on the album. ‘Only Love’ sounds exactly like Take That, now that they’re a serious grown-up band and not a jelly-smeared pop band who wouldn’t think twice about duetting with Sonia. ‘Only Love’ sounds exactly like it was written explicitly with a future Military Wives cover version in mind.

Then finally the end-zone is in sight, it’s the final track at last. But something interesting has happened. ‘Hot Gates’ takes a surprising left-turn from the preceding 11 tracks, as it employs some incredibly sophisticated studio techniques that call-back to Brian Eno’s Before and After Science, including some experimental chopped-up melodies, skittering jazz-like percussion and an inspired guest vocal appearance from art-rock pioneer Laurie Anderson.

Not really, it just sounds like Mumford and Sons doing a Mumford and Sons, I just got bored of writing the same thing over and over again. You’d think that Mumford and Sons would feel the same, but apparently not.

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