The album art for “Wilder Mind” is a good indication of what’s inside. In a change from the urban settings of their previous album covers, the four members of Mumford and Sons are seen galloping across the American prairie on painted horses, holding their instruments aloft and shouting into the wind.
Similarly, the music in “Wilder Mind” lacks any sense of restraint.
Present as always is the upbeat banjo. Present as always is the dramatic buildup. Present as always are the lyrics on love and love lost. Yet “Wilder Mind” somehow manages to take these elements to even greater extremes than its predecessors.
Whereas “Sigh No More” loved to reference literary classics and “Babel” was replete with scriptural allusions, “Wilder Mind” draws its source material from Westerns. “You’ll shout my name as I ride away,” they rasp on “Ride Away.” “February Shivers” begins with the lines, “Falling backwards to an outlaw’s death/ Your words ringing like a gunshot in my ear.”
Marcus Mumford does indeed seem to believe that rejection and a gunshot leave similar wounds. Nowhere is this more evident than the rage-filled “Six Shooter.” The song is a mixture of “Dust Bowl Dance” and “White Blank Page,” while trying a little too hard to tie together other songs on the album.
With lyrics like “You took my soul, and shot it in the dust, but you left my heart in its place,” and “How can I ride away, without making you pay, pay for the hurt you caused,” the track attempts to instill a sense of loss and anger in the listeners, without ever making it clear what exactly it is they’re supposed to be angry about.
The album is full of guest vocals from folk and country celebrities ranging from EmmyLou Harris to Adam Duritz from Counting Crows. While the talent of these vocalists is (in most cases) beyond dispute, the band runs into issues when Marcus Mumford attempts to out-shout his guests on the choruses. I really would have liked to have actually heard Jeff Tweedy singing about a gunfight between God and Satan, thank you very much.
The album’s big surprise is its title track, a twelve-minute art-rock jam. “Tombs of tomes/ Elephant bones/ Dying telephones,” Marcus Mumford mumbles against a squealing steel guitar and muted drums.
The song’s penultimate movement is a three-minute instrumental consisting entirely of air being let out of dodgeballs through punctures of varying sizes.
The track ends with Mumford suddenly snapping back into character and shouting, “Oh, and don’t give up your hope.”
The band really gets down to their roots in the final song of the album “Prairie Winds.” At first, you get the feeling that you’re in for a bluegrass tribute, but boy are you wrong. The track consists of a four minute banjo solo overlaid with Marcus Mumford singing “ah. Ah ah. Ah ah ah ah,” at various pitches and speeds. The banjo is at times intermixed with wild fiddling that moves in and out of time with the music.
In this track, Mumford’s voice evokes images of falling leaves, frozen ground, blooming prairie roses and the unrelenting heat of the summer, all wrapped up in the seasons of love and loss we feel growing up and leaving our family, finding a partner to spend our lives with, moving in and out of friend groups. The final “Ah” takes the listener slowly into the ultimate, unavoidable embrace of death.
Writers’ Note: Since writing this article, we have discovered that album art and a track listing for “Wilder Mind” has already been leaked, proving many of our predictions wrong. In the spirit of American discourse, we stand by what we say regardless.