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Disc review: Mumford & Sons, ‘Wilder Mind’

Pop

Mumford & Sons

Wilder Mind

[Glassnote/Island]

2 stars

It was never going to be easy for Mumford & Sons to move beyond the shtick that helped the band become arena-folk superstars. That shtick involved the liberal application of banjos atop tunes that may or may not have actually demanded such instrumentation, depending on who you asked. Add the band’s insistence on dressing like Carolina dirt farmers, despite the fact that they are, in fact, upper-class British dudes, and Marcus Mumford and band took on the air of method actors playing at folk music while in their secret hearts, wishing they could be the Dave Matthews Band, minus the jamming.

“Wilder Mind” finds the band making its bid for credibility beyond the “Mississippi Delta by way of the Thames” pose. It’s not completely awful. But it comes dangerously close to being so.

The problem is, like a boy band survivor attempting to make music that will not embarrass him once he reaches the ripe old age of 25, Mumford and pals do serious damage to their own credibility by making it clear that it was all pretty much just an act. Strip away the rustic garb and the strummy-strum-strum, and you’re left with a band that sounds an awful lot like Coldplay, several years after Coldplay had any particular relevance.

The arena-folk has given way to arena-pop, much of it toothless and all of it fairly redundant in a world already populated by people who make good art out of basic rock and pop tropes, like U2, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, or even Zac Brown. All of the above have been able to mine familiar harmonic territory and to rely on weathered arrangement conceptions because of the strength of their songwriting, the passion they bring to the table, and their skill as lyricists and storytellers. The ear grows far less weary of hearing familiar chords ad infinitum when the singer has something to say that is worth hearing. Sadly, the Mumford & Sons of “Wilder Mind” focus on vague relationship-based motifs and rather nebulous declarations of unspecified yearning. This gets old quick.

“Believe” and the title track sound like pieces crafted specifically to accompany melodramatic peaks during shows on the CW network, or even worse, one of those wretched “Twilight” films. “Cold Arms” delineates a relationship impasse involving characters whose troubles don’t even seem to register particularly deeply with the singer himself. “Broad-shouldered Beasts” has a cool title, but ultimately sounds like a tune Dave Matthews would have put in the “potential B-side” pile.

Banjos? No banjos? What’s the difference? The song remains the same, and it’s a boring one.

- Jeff Miers

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