Marcus Mumford has never sounded better than on this overwhelmingly tense and bittersweet album, says Neil McCormick
Mumford & Sons: Ben Lovett, Marcus Mumford, Ted Dwane and Winston Marshall
By Neil McCormick
11:00AM BST 25 Apr 2015
Disillusioned audience members booed Bob Dylan in 1965 for swapping his acoustic guitar for an electric one. It is hard to imagine fans of Mumford & Sons doing the same 50 years on. The lines between folk and rock have long since blurred and the English quartet are the most recent example of a band effectively occupying some of the fertile space in-between. They may have risen to fame in 2009 playing banjos, yet their surging, singalong anthems always had more in common with the epic rock of Coldplay than bluegrass. Nevertheless, the decision to go electric for their third album effectively sacrifices what might be considered their USP, putting them in a much more crowded field.
But the switch is a triumph, as if the band have slipped out of woolly sheepskin overcoats to reveal the leather jackets and canine glint lurking beneath all along. Wilder Mind has all the songwriting power to satisfy committed fans but with a sharper edge and darker undercurrents that might entice sceptics.
An industrial pulse and chug of rhythm pushes songs along, with echoing guitars and ghostly synths woven into a shimmering, shifting backdrop to Marcus Mumford’s rich vocals. The frontman has never sounded better – he has learned the value of restraint, finding all kinds of shades and nuance in low, intimate, close-to-the-mic singing that makes the explosive roar of big notes all the more effective.
Wilder Mind is the band’s third album, which comes after a brief hiatus following their second record in 2012, Babel.
The result is an album that ebbs and flows but never releases its tidal grip. Huge, crowd-pleasing choruses on songs like Ditmas, Broad Shouldered Beasts and Only Love are not squeezed for every last drop in the way the band might have done in the past. The mood of Wilder Mind is overwhelmingly tense and bittersweet, reflecting songs of remorse, regret and renewal. Mumford’s relationship with singer-songwriter Laura Marling ended in 2010 and he has been married to actress and childhood penpal Carey Mulligan since 2012, and it is tempting to locate a musical roman à clef in lyrics that depict relationships at various stages of commitment and disintegration. Yet what is most apparent is a fierce self-interrogation and welcome refusal to settle on the obvious, resulting in love songs wreathed in mystery and ambiguity that mirror the musical setting.
There may be nothing particularly original here, but the gritty ambience of electric instrumentation suits Mumford & Sons’s way with melody, emotion and dynamics. Simply put, the Mumfords rock.
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