Review by Roy Trakin.
Mumford & Sons – Wilder Mind (Gentlemen of the Road/Glassnote Records)
“I don’t even know if I believe,” sings Marcus Mumford in “Believe,” the first single from the band’s third album. “Everything you’re trying to say to me.” I kind of feel the same way after listening all the way through, wondering if something’s up in the fairytale marriage of the band’s lead singer/songwriter with Carey Mulligan or it could just be a metaphor for the eternal relationship dilemma – the impossibility of knowing exactly what’s going through your opposite number’s head.
The band has famously ditched the banjos and stand-up bass this time around for a more amplified sound, but the raw emotion and heart-on-the-sleeve plaints remain the selling points, even as the opening “Tompkins Square Park,” a break-up song with a sinewy Chris Martin-ish vocal and Winston Marshall’s supple The Edge-like guitars, carves out the new direction. “I wanna hold you/in the dark/One last time.”
Another thematic strand revolves around the struggle of our animal instincts – those inner “Broad-Shouldered Beasts” – and the self-inflicted shackles of domesticity and civilization. “Leave behind your wanton way,” pleads Marcus in “The Wolf,” “I want to learn to love in kind,” the constant push-and-pull of any romantic pairing.
The title track also ponders this conundrum: “You try to tame me, tame me from the start,” insists our protagonist over jangling guitars that slice the difference between Knopfler-esque and War on Drugs.
In “Just Smoke,” a fatalistic look back at a now faded relationship, the singer bemoans how “The flame burnt out in our empty hands” over a pulsing dance beat. “Monster” finds things at their worst, the wounds laid bare, a slowed-down ballad that erupts as Mumford lets loose: “So fuck your dreams./And don’t you pick at our seams.”
“Snake Eyes” once again explores the distrust (“I can tell, you will always be danger”) which eventually destroys the bond, the sound rising in intensity to match the simmering anger.
“Cold Arms” measures the aftermath with Dylan-like precision, as Mumford shows the confidence in his ability he got from those New Basement Tapes sessions in a searing line like “Now look at you all torn up/I left you waiting to bleed.”
“Ditmas,” named after the Brooklyn neighborhood where the album was mostly recorded, is probably the closest to the classic Mumford & Sons sound. “Don’t tell me that I’ve changed,” insists Mumford. “Because that’s not the truth.”
The ominous gospel-tinged closer, “Hot Gates,” as in the ones to Hades, natch, finds Mumford inadvertently addressing the band’s stylistic transformation as he tries to talk someone close to him out of suicide: “And I can’t be for you all of the things you want me to…but I will love you constantly/And though we cry/We must stay alive.”
On Wilder Mind, Mumford & Sons prove there is indeed life after heartbreak… and banjos.