4 Out Of 5 Stars
In what must feel as divisive as the day Bob Dylan plugged his electric guitar in at the Newport Folk Festival, Mumford and Sons put away all their acoustical instruments and jack in the electrics. I don't see how this album could do anything but divide those fans who listened to "Sigh No More" and "Babel," then come to this. "Wilder Mind" says so long to the banjos and hello to the amplifiers. Is this a good thing? How does the band deal with wanting to step into the shoes of U2?
I don't think it's any secret that Mumford and Sons always wanted to sound big. After all, even with the acoustic guitars, the songs were often all about the bombast. Think of how potent "Lover Of The Light" or "The Cave" are, even behind the sound. They are anthems meant to shake the rafters. A friend of mine even referred to "Babel" as "God and Bombast." Turning the amps up is kind of a natural progression for the band. But I still doubt anyone would have predicted the pounding that comes from "The Wolf" or "Ditmas."
What remains is Marcus Mumford's voice and his way around a lyric. The songs are credited to the entire band, which likely meant that each member designated his volume to the instrumentation, as the lyrics remain as soul searching as ever, and a little less on the God Quest side of things. And when the sonics aren't overwhelming, the songs sound as brightly as they might have on the band's earlier albums ("Believe" and "Hot Gates").
This may still come as a bitter pill to swallow for the fans expecting more of what the first two albums represent. I would suggest that you test the samples first or think about what U2 (or a heavier version of Coldplay) might sound like. The songs themselves are good enough for me to forgive the amplification, but "Wilder Mind" takes a little getting used to. Be prepared.