Mumford & Sons, Wilder Mind, album review: A major change in direction, but not subject

Out go the banjos, accordions and acoustic guitars, in favour of surging electric guitar riffs and Ben Lovett’s synth and organ textures

Andy Gill
Thursday 23 April 2015 14:13
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Mumford & Sons
Mumford & Sons

For all its colossal commercial success, Mumford & Sons’ Babel evinced mostly fair-to-middling critical disappointment at its lack of progress – an opinion perhaps shared by the band themselves, judging by the startling change in direction on this third album.

Out go the banjos, accordions and acoustic guitars, in favour of Winston Marshall’s surging electric guitar riffs and Ben Lovett’s synth and organ textures, while the simple kickdrum and footstomp beats are replaced by more propulsive drumming from Marcus Mumford. Former producer Markus Dravs, meanwhile, has been supplanted by James Ford, best known for his work with Arctic Monkeys. Here, Ford ensures that the Mumfords’ new power is not frittered away cheaply, with tracks like “Believe”, “Only Love” and “Snake Eyes” building gradually from spare, intimate beginnings to rollicking conclusions: the latter, for instance, opening with Mumford’s quiet murmur about “the compromise of truth” before a gently pulsing Neu!-beat leads to a climax that’s the closest electrified equivalent of the Mumfords stompalong.

Elsewhere, the new instrumentation affords a more nuanced approach, from the thrumming bass, piano, tom-toms and subtly tingling guitar evoking the resolute support of “Broad-Shouldered Beasts”, and the keening, spacious synth textures of “Tompkins Square Park”, to the unison guitar thrash that opens “The Wolf”, one of the more interesting, muti-faceted investigations of affection on an album which, like Babel, again focuses perhaps too single-mindedly on romantic problems. Mumford is forever seeking to mend fissures in relationships, wracked by guilt, doubt or recrimination, and hesitant about the future course of love. “I’m not strong enough to cradle the weight of your love,” he frets in “Just Smoke”; while even a comparatively rewarding alliance in the closing “Hot Gates” seems built on desperation.

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