Album Review – Mumford & Sons’ “Wilder Mind”
Well I hope these British boys invested their money well.
The truth is Mumford & Sons were in an impossible situation. And it wasn’t completely their fault. As the poster boys for the over-saturation of string bands in the early part of this decade, it was their destiny to have their ox gored by the popular consciousness. As soon as the humor in these bands with their little mandolins and banjos, suspenders and paperboy hats reached apex proportions in the zeitgeist, it was over. They come out with a fourth consecutive album of really earnest and emotional string band music, and they get mocked for being outdated and overdone. They go electric like they do in Wilder Mind, and they get painted as turncoats by the roots community, and play right into the hands of detractors who said they were nothing more than a pop rock band playing primitive instruments.
In the end, Mumford & Sons chose option ‘B’ as maybe the lesser of two evils. If they had to eat crow about their commitment to roots music, at least they wouldn’t be left behind when it comes to sonic relevancy. Though really, what’s relevant about generic British rock music these days?
The best way to describe Wilder Mind is that it sounds very much like Mumford & Sons. Forget that they’ve gone electric, you nearly forget about this a few songs in. What you do notice unfortunately is that aside from plugging in their instruments, so very little has changed with their approach. This album is virtually dead on arrival when it comes to exerting any type of creative challenge or relevancy. There’s not just zero growth in the writing or composition, there’s no change or spice or diversification of anything. You feel like you’re listening to the same song over and over, just slightly different settings on the same generic Mumford approach.
When their last record Babel came out in 2012, Mumford & Sons proved themselves to be one of the last remaining bands that could go gold upon release under the new music streaming model. Babel sold 600,00 copies in its first week just in the United States, accounting for the best debut of the year up to that point. Wilder Mind will come in with less than half of that—a big downgrade for what was thought to be one of music’s biggest franchises moving forward. Mumford & Sons are the Bee Gees of string bands.
Could they have taken a shorter or longer hiatus? Would that have shaken off what seemed like their inevitable succumbing to negative public sentiment? It’s doubtful. Acoustic or electric, sooner or later, Mumford & Sons needed to shake up their approach significantly to extricate themselves from popular sentiment purgatory, and they fail to do so on Wilder Mind.
And it’s not just that the songs offer little contrast from each other. Within the tracks themselves, in many cases the instrumentation is all smashed together in the mix to where it’s just a wall of electric sound that doesn’t allow the listener to separate any single element from the noise and appreciate it. Marcus Mumford relies on emotion to engage the listener, not literary artistry, and in the end it isn’t enough just to resonate when it only touches such a narrow sector of the emotional array one song after another. It’s not that Mumford & Sons’ music is antiquated as much as it’s uninspired. It feels like one photocopy over and over.
Mumford & Sons were never as good as their staunchest proponents attested to, but in fairness, they were never as bad as their harshest critics proclaimed either. The issues listeners had with their music were just as much about cultural divisions and musical tribalism as sonic shortcomings. Mumford & Sons may have never released a great song, but they’ve never released a bad one either, and that maxim goes for the songs of Wilder Mind as well.
Listening to this album, there’s nothing to be offended by unless you want to be. In fact Mumford & Sons may benefit by trying to be a little more offensive. In the end the fallacy of their approach might have been shaving all of the rough edges off to offend no one and appeal to all, and in turn delivering something that was too pallid. Still, the Mumford & Sons approach is one of music with a high emotional component and a driving pentameter that while maybe not appealing to the cultured listening palette, is not really acidic either unless you’re listening with some philosophical beef.
Mumford & Sons is not the problem, and not even by a long shot. I’d rather listen to Wilder Mind than most of the strident trash emanating from my country music radio. Mumford fans shouldn’t have to resort to wearing bags on their heads; these are people that appreciate music with more substance that what the mainstream dishes out.
Mostly though, Wilder Mind just makes me sad for the future of music. Modern music is out of ideas and directionless. It’s not that Mumford & Sons should have made a better choice in how to approach with this album, it’s that they had no other choice due to the narrowness of their skill set and influences. Still, hating on Mumford & Sons is just as much sport as it is anything. Whether Wilder Mind is their swan song or their start on an illustrious rock career, Mumford & Sons has always been and will continue to be, mostly harmless.
One Gun Up.
May 9, 2015 @ 8:18 am
I think this is a pretty accurate review. Mumford and sons are not a horrible band by any means but are not as unique and groundbreaking as many fans think they are. Ok cool they use banjos and mandolins, but so does every bluegrass/folk band, the major difference being that Mumford and sons have that “pop” appeal and got major radio airplay. But like every pop band they sound repetitive and dull after a while. Hearing a banjo roll in a radio pop song is actually pretty cool compared to the garbage normally on radio, but listening to a whole Mumford and sons album full of the same banjo roll in every song gets pretty annoying after a while. I always compare pop music to candy. It tastes/hears good at first and in small doses it’s okay. But to much and your teeth/brain will start to rot. If you want to hear an awesome band that uses mandolin and banjos check out Trampled by Turtles. They might not have the pop appeal that Mumford and sons have or have the sex appeal but they can run circles around them creatively and in playing ability.
May 9, 2015 @ 10:19 pm
What is your definition of “pop”? Is it anything that is not country?
Pop is basically a fake genre. It’s an all-encompassing term that represents whatever the most popular songs are at any given time period.
May 9, 2015 @ 8:51 am
“Modern music is out of ideas and directionless”
Amen. Every genre feels generic right now. Like once someone discovers someone a little unique, and they become popular, they create so many knockoffs and oversaturate the market to the point that the original talent is stale before they really had a chance to grow. Almost as if they have a cache of blanks in a closet at the record companies, and they just wait to see what takes so they can stamp out 50 of the same performer.
May 9, 2015 @ 9:07 am
And it has always been thus , JC . It’s the music BUSINESS even if artists don’t seem to grasp that point until later in their careers .
Label :” We’re looking for something fresh that sounds exactly like the last thing we sold a gazillion of ”
Artists stop listening after ” We’re looking for something fresh ….” and go about actually delivering something fresh….. most times . Label either turns it down , molds the act or jumps on board AFTER the act has done the heavy lifting , touring , social media-ing and amassed a respectable ( marketable ) following.
BUSINESS , kids …BUSINESS is the key part of ” music BUSINESS “.
This song is forgettable , lacks dynamic , lacks a unique vocal ” performance ” a melody …kind of ” Pogue-ish ” in a tame way . In my humble opinion , this band never had legs ….just that acoustic-y thing Trigger spoke of which was a minor pop wave they were lucky enough to ride the crest of . So many of these newer acts desperately need far better professional writing to sustain listener interest , I think .
Cool Lester Smooth
May 9, 2015 @ 5:46 pm
Both Chance’s “Acid Rap” and Kendrick’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” are formally daring and impressively personal, if you enjoy hip hop.
May 9, 2015 @ 8:59 am
I won’t listen to this album, but I enjoyed reading the review. I’ve stated it before in the comments that I really like Marcus removed from the band. His track on The New Basement Tapes – Kansas City (with Jim James and Johnny Depp) – is outstanding. In addition, his work with the Inside Llewyn Davis project(s) – there’s a soundtrack and a concert – is awesome, too!
I think if he shedded the “Sons,” he’d have the rough edges that are being rounded out by being in a group. Hopefully a solo career is in the cards; he’s only fucking 28 years old!
May 9, 2015 @ 9:31 am
I’m with you. I dig the dude’s voice, never cared for the band as a whole. Not a hater of the band, but definitely not a fan.
Most people who “hate” a band like this, just do it because their facebook friends tell them to. They don’t know what they like or don’t like. Trigger nailed it with, “Still, hating on Mumford & Sons is just as much sport as it is anything.”
May 9, 2015 @ 10:41 am
I feel the same way. He is really good apart from his band. He also was part of a good version of Simon & Garfunkel’s The Boxer on the latest Jerry Douglas album called Traveler.
May 9, 2015 @ 3:33 pm
Listening to this shortly after Zac Brown’s new one was … disheartening. Chris Stapleton helped out somewhat but these are rough times.
Cool Lester Smooth
May 9, 2015 @ 5:48 pm
Yeah…I really, really dislike Jekyll + Hyde.
And the only Mumford songs I like are The Cave and Little Lion Man. Their other song, the one that they’ve re-recorded with different lyrics about 50 times, is nowhere near as good.
May 9, 2015 @ 6:01 pm
I was disappointed with Zac Brown Band’s new cd “Jeklyl + Hyde, bit I heard few song on Mumford & sons new cd and I was not impressed. I like their Bluegrass and Folk side better than their Electric side.
May 9, 2015 @ 10:32 pm
By the way Mumford & Sons are trying to have hits in the U.S. I would like to by this cd to keep an open mind about their music like Taylor Swift’s new cd “1989” which she went pop. I am not a pop music fan and don’t like pop but I like Taylor Swift she is a great singer and artist. I would do a same thing to Mumford & Sons. Never know they might do a country cd in the future.
May 10, 2015 @ 6:15 am
Why the hell not? Everybody else has, ha.
May 10, 2015 @ 8:33 am
“Mostly though, Wilder Mind just makes me sad for the future of music. Modern music is out of ideas and directionless.”
I respectfully disagree with the above statement. Old-timers said the same thing when Elvis Presley and then The Beatles came along. How did that turn out? While I’m not a Mumfords fan, I at least give them credit for trying to push roots music into the 21st century. That’s infinitely more laudable than some of the “throwback” artists that frequently get lauded on sites such as this. It is now 2015. It is not 1955 or 1965. With that in mind, the best music — even roots music — should somehow be in tune with modern times. As for those who have suggested that pop music doesn’t have any lasting value, fans of The Beatles, the Beach Boys, The Byrds, and Big Star (the killer B’s) would vehemently disagree. There’s nothing wrong with good pop music. It’s just that the good stuff is so hard to make.
One more thing: With country music being at something of a crossroads, I find myself less interested in straight country releases as time moves on. Of my favorite 2015 releases thus far (and it has been a strong year), only Dwight Yoakam’s ‘Second Hand Heart’ would qualify as a straight country album. These days, country music seems to work best as an influence that sounds best when mixed with other styles of music (the Chris Stapleton album being a shining example). If I want to hear records that have that classic country sound, I’ll pull out my classic country records. But, for the most part, I don’t want to hear those sounds being regurgitated by modern artists. The future of modern music is actually quite bright, regardless of what mainstream radio and major labels seem to suggest. The ideas are plentiful. They just might not appeal to people that are stuck in the past.
May 10, 2015 @ 1:43 pm
“Bee Gees of string bands” LOL! That was funny but TBF to The Bee Gees, they are more like Spinal Tap in that the started very rock/folky in the 60s and 70 then cashed in on disco and died with disco just like the hair bands/Spinal Tap did in the early 90s. M&S never had a before the string band let’s dress like a general store owner phase.
May 10, 2015 @ 8:45 pm
a lot of love or hate but mostly hate on Mumford & sons wow! LOL
May 11, 2015 @ 2:37 am
I’ve never once liked Mumford and Sons.
And in an earlier discussion thread here (I can’t remember if it was the one where Marcus Mumford jokingly remarked that the band “really wants to rap” or if it was the “String Bands Better Than Mumford & Sons” thread), I stated why succinctly enough………and I’ll recap before addressing “Wilder Mind”.
There is a reason why I’ve called them the Nickelback of nu-folk.
Firstly, almost all of their lyrics have ranged from banal and derivative at best, to passive-aggressive and condescending at worst. In light of the former, their songs up until this era just rehash the likes of William Shakespeare and John Steinbeck and others………and do so in a way where all their nuance and depth is distilled and ultra-pasteurized to nothing more than insubstantial cliches and platitudes. And that’s when they’re at their best.
At their worst, their songwriting is just bitter and childish on paper when you weave around the middle-of-the-road begging for populist appeal earnestness. Many of their songs focus around the dissolution of relationships, and in the vast majority of cases, the narrator comes across as provoking and tears the subject down. “Little Lion Man” would be one of the rare exceptions in that, in that song, there is some admission he had his faults too, but it is then outweighed by many other cuts. “The Cave” is a clear example of this, but you also see the contempt and shaming surface in other songs like “Roll Away Your Stone”, “Thistle & Weeds”, “Reminder”, “Babel”, et cetera. And when the songs all tend to be formulaic and blur together, you have other songs like “Dust Bowl Dance” where, on paper, it’s not another acerbic relationship-gone-sour song, but it might as well be with the all-too-familiar passive-aggressive snarl.
That sort of brooding really gets on my nerves the same way much of John Mayer’s lyricism gets on my nerves, and which also surfaces in plenty of songs from bro-country entertainers that aren’t about endless summer daisy-duked and moonshined utopia. What makes those aforementioned songs any better than, say, Luke Bryan’s “Games” and “I Know You’re Gonna Be There”? Or Cole Swindell’s “Aint Worth The Whiskey”?
Even musically, they were at best just a couple rungs above the abuse of token country instruments on recent bro-country and metro-bro fodder. That act just struck me as transparently image-centric schlock. I never bought it was coming from an authentic place.
Still, as insufferable as they have been to me, the one thing I can acknowledge about them is that they inspired some sort of reaction that was either hot or cold, and rarely in-between. Much like Nickelback.
So, as much as I wasn’t looking forward to it, I still decided to give “Wilder Mind” a curious listen……………………and all I can say is they’ll no longer have that going for them either if this is the direction they intend to take their music from here on out. It’s just largely middle-of-the-road OneRepublic and The Fray-esque mall or dentist office “rock” that’s interchangeable from whatever passes as “rock” from the beginning of this decade onward on Adult Contemporary radio.
All the same, some things never change………………and, surprise surprise, the same passive-aggressive brooding surfaces in many of the lyrics on “Wilder Mind” as well. Their current single “The Wolf” is a huge offender of this, as is “Monster”, “Cold Arms” and “Believe” to name a few. They even have a song on the album called “Hot Gates” that I interpreted to be about a friend committing suicide and, instead of grieving and reflecting on the loss more deeply, lambastes the subject for breaking a promise of sorts. Charming!
So yeah, I don’t doubt that some just decide to bash Mumford & Sons only because of their ubiquity and as a sport. I don’t appreciate that.
But I’ve explained here specifically why this band gets on my nerves a lot, and I can’t help but feel as I do. They’re all style, very little substance. instruments
May 11, 2015 @ 6:41 am
this band sucks…they just do…actually, I take that back, they don’t suck, they are just unoriginal and tired. these guys have gotten rich riding on the road that was paved by good american bands like Trampled by Turtles, Old Crow Medicine show and the Avett Bros. They need to go back to England, and try something new and let the bands who deserve the recognition finally get some.
May 11, 2015 @ 9:58 am
That’s because Mumford & Sons have ALWAYS been, fundamentally, a pop band at its core.
Their adoption of the banjo was a calculated business-centric decision. It was influenced by commerce, not by art. You wouldn’t hear artists remark: “F*** the banjo!” (regardless if it was joking or not) and disclose the following as they have in a DIY magazine interview last month:
“When we started playing folk instruments, we didn”™t have a fucking clue what we were doing,” says Marshall, trying to back up his first point. Jerry Douglas (a famous dobro player) once told Winston he was a talent at banjo because “I didn”™t have a fucking idea what I was doing.” He was winging it. “It”™s harder to blag it in rock, because there”™s so many rock bands,” he admits.
“I stand by what I said, but it”™s tiring slagging something off the whole time,” he says, giving a slight nod to the hordes of Mumford haters, willing this third album to go tits up. “For some reason, I think banjo might win. It”™s putting up a fight”¦”
What some may notice in the tonality of Marshall’s remarks is a Chris Martin of Coldplay-esque self-deprecating humor; which is an acquired taste in itself. It can either come across as charming to some or annoying to others. With me, it’s often both.
But here’s the key difference between Coldplay and Mumford & Sons. While they’re both playing, essentially, to the same overall demographic………..I’ve always felt Coldplay try somewhat harder than most commerce-driven groups of its ilk. Many have written them off for what they insist are pitifully generic and simplistic lyrics…………….and while I can acknowledge Martin obviously plays off of many Hallmark card cliches of his own, Martin nonetheless thinks like a businessman and understands less is more…………and that reliance on simplicity can actually prove a saving grace in that it leaves lyrics that are open to a wide degree of interpretation in how simple they are, yet are rich in imagery.
And even while the band undoubtedly follows a formula of their own, they’ve also demonstrated more ambition than other mainstream groups in tinkering with other textures and musical influences to add more teeth to their template. For instance, “Viva La Vida or Death & All His Friends” may not be many’s cup of tea here, but you can’t deny it sounded distinctive from any of their earlier albums.
Mumford & Sons, in contrast, just sound complacent three albums into their career. Marshall’s remarks clearly expose how they operate is informed by calculated business decisions and very minimally by actual love of the music.
Again, Mumford and Songs were and are, fundamentally, a pop group; a pop group that strategically will try on slightly different wardrobes depending on the change in scenery. They concluded the nu-folk trend had run its course, so have decided to try and fit in with the likes of OneRepublic and The Fray now. It’s informed by style, not substance.
May 12, 2015 @ 4:59 am
“Babel sold 600,00 copies in its first week just in the United States, accounting for the best debut of the entire year.”
It’s actually second to Taylor’s Red that got an eye-dropping 1.2 million copies sold.
May 12, 2015 @ 9:09 am
Sorry, that should have read, “Babel sold 600,00 copies in its first week just in the United States, accounting for the best debut of the year up to that point.”
May 12, 2015 @ 7:26 am
Similar to the “British Invasion” bands and the later British hard rock/knock-off-American-blues bands, all of their music is incredibly uninspired and boring. Technical proficiency can’t make up for authenticity.