Change is good, even if change means ditching the instrumentation and genre that made you famous in favor of a typical rock setup for your first record in three years. That’s the attitude Mumford and Sons are taking with Wilder Mind, their third album and the first serious departure they’ve made from the taut, acoustic twang of the alterna-folk they helmed on both Sigh No More and Babel. The intricate, sotto voce harmonies, the banjolin, and the muslin and wool articles of their vintage wardrobe have been ditched in favor of anthemic, arena-ready bangers and a sharper musical palette, and Saturday Night Live served as the first opportunity for many of their fans to hear Wilder Mind‘s singles weeks before the record drops on May 4.
And while plenty of them responded to Mumford’s new penchant for plugged-in, turned-up rock ‘n’ roll with support, encouragement, and elation, the majority reacted as a little kid would when they see their dad for the first time after he’s shaved his mustache: “WHY DID YOU DO THAT? WHY DID THIS CHANGE? PUT IT BAAAAACK!“
It’s not like Mumford and Sons are brand-new to this balls-to-the-wall audio approach, as their stage show has incorporated screaming, stomping, jumping all over drum kits, and the like for years. But with Marcus Mumford trading in his acoustic for an electric and bassist Ted Dwane shifting from an upright bass to one tethered to an amp, the enthusiasm and the energy we’re used to seeing from them is reeled in to something that shirks their status as neo-folk poster boys while giving them a shade of anonymity. With “The Wolf,” we get a driving, snarling explosion that’s got the dudes playing with their new toys and howling themselves hoarse, Mumford holding every devastating note and Winston Marshall pacing about the Studio 8H stage like a maniac. (Dwane’s bass-face here is to be commended, as it’s the only one in recent memory that gives Este Haim a run for her money.)
“Believe” unraveled slightly from “The Wolf” in all its tightly wound glory, with Mumford grabbing a tambourine for the slower, sincere number. Maybe they’re still getting their sea legs with the synths and the solos dripping with metallic distortion, or maybe we’re still in the process of accepting the idea of the addition of both — either way, “Believe” came across as less of a sure statement, not a “Here we are! This is what we’re doing now!” performance but more of a shrug: “We bought the ticket, we’re taking the ride, and this is what we came up with.” Did it suck? Nope; those notes were solid, that rhythm held, the chorus hit the ear in a pleasant and enjoyable way. Did they seem comfortable? Again, nope: The glee from “The Wolf” seemed to be put aside for a serious moment, and the excitement for “Believe” took a beating as a result.
For the first time in a while, it felt like an artist used Saturday Night Live not as a promotional opportunity or a catapult to fame, but a laboratory: That stage is a controlled, closed environment where sound snafus are to be expected, and the audience, both in studio and tuning in at home, is far enough removed to feel disconnected and out of reach. Mumford and Sons seemed to be testing out “The Wolf” and “Believe” to see how they’d go over before the rest of the new stuff precipitates over the coming weeks.
Maybe they weren’t testing the new songs, but testing us to see if we could pick up on the fact that they’re really the same band with a new look and some new gear. Some got it, but a quick scroll through Twitter shows that tons of fans were completely and totally aghast and confused about why their beloved Little Lion Men were moving in this direction and into a scene represented by the likes of the Foo Fighters and Kings of Leon. To those freaking out about change, we say give it a minute — Dad’s not gonna grow the ‘stache back overnight, and hey, he may not look too bad without it. The peanut gallery had plenty to say in the meantime, though. First, there were the good comments.
I think I can FINALLY like Mumford and Sons now that they got rid of the fucking mandolin omg !!!!
— Tanner (@tanner_ala) April 12, 2015
— Pleas (@audri_pleas) April 12, 2015
I’m just going to throw this out there: Mumford and Sons have gotten a lot better. They’re a downright tolerable band now.
— Josh Epstein (@WombatRock) April 12, 2015
— JP (@EclecticJP) April 12, 2015
Then, there were the…unkind:
This Mumford and Sons song sounds like The Killers and the Kings of Leon had a baby and named it Joffrey Baratheon. #hardpass
— Finchface (@finchlynch) April 12, 2015
Mumford and Sons engaging in a traditional Kings of Leon bird feces summoning dance.
— brent dicrescenzo (@bdicrescenzo) April 12, 2015
So Mumford and Sons is just Kings of Leon now…?
— Drew Holmes (@drewholmes) April 12, 2015
Also, can’t tell if I’m listening to the new Mumford and Sons track or a Kings of Leon cover band…
— Adam Amanse (@aaamanse) April 12, 2015
“Mumford and Sons Go Electric”? Not really in the same league as “Dylan Goes Electric”, or “Pardon Me While I Go To The Bathroom”…
— Re:tim Re:leggoe (@leggoet) April 12, 2015
— Amy (@amynhawley) April 12, 2015
Watching SNL and Mumford and Sons is playing. Where the fuck are the acoustic guitars. I thought they were folk.
— chris pigao (@chrispigao) April 12, 2015
Did Mumford and Sons get hypnotized at a fair that they were Foo Fighters and then the hypnotist died before he could undo it?
— Mike Hadge (@HadgeTunes) April 12, 2015
— joonson (@joonson) April 12, 2015
The tweet of the night:
Everybody is surprised by Mumford and Sons new sound, but I’m still surprised that Mumford had that many sons & how they’re all his age.
— JOHNNY CANVAS? (@johnnycanvas) April 12, 2015
And the WTF of the night:
Mumford and sons should make a movie about the philosophical nuance and existential implications of the United States postal service
— luke bot v6.9 (@TruyeMusicals) April 12, 2015