Lacing up my shoes, immediate beams of guitar start to pull my hopelessly, out of shape legs into stride, each foot connecting with the pavement with a gentle tap of the ride cymbal. I'm going to get back into running; I'm going to get back in to shape. I want to run a marathon again - not just any marathon, but the NYC Marathon - and "Tompkins Square Park," the first track from Mumford and Sons' newest album, Wilder Mind, released earlier this Summer, perfectly accompanies my first steps on the road back to the Verrazano Narrows.
In many ways Wilder Mind is a perfect runner's aid. It's got a constant, propulsive drive to it. Not the four on the floor blasts of kick drum that fueled genre (folk rock/pop) defining albums like Sigh No More and Babel. This is something new, firing to stick work on a drum kit locked in time with galloping (non-double) bass lines. Waves of static, electric guitar provide a newly heightened sense of atmosphere and ambiance. It's a dramatic backdrop to my all my pathetic huffing and puffing, dynamically rising and falling with the dips and crests (let's call them "hills") in the road that lay before me on a weekday, 7AM run through the park. Wilder Mind keeps the feet moving.
The album's lyrics too are easier to hone in on than past efforts...something very much appreciated through all the sweat now pouring down my brow. There was a time when Marcus Mumford - the actual son of a preacher man - could slap a biblical title across one of the band's album covers (that would be Babel), set out to "serve the lord", and reference brushes with the devil ("Whispers In The Dark"). This time around, Mumford's thoughts aren't so heavy; Wilder Mind seems to be an album-long grapple with a less-than-fulfilling relationship. We've all been there, right? "Weekend wreckers take the streets with abandon in their eyes/But in our bedroom we're bloodshot and beat and never so alive", from "Cold Arms", for example; these are not the poetic, existential bouts with faith, identity, and ideas of God that we've come to expect. And that's OK.
Arena-ready ROCK acts are a dying breed. Yes, U2 just completed a series of week-long runs on our nation's arenas, but they (probably) can't keep it up forever. I mean seriously, how many near-death experiences did Bono survive last year? I know how Final Destination works. Pearl Jam is absolutely still capable of selling out rooms like MSG and The Staples Center...but, it pains me to say, they're a nostalgia act...a very very good nostalgia act. Not really sure what Coldplay has going on these days. No one gives a sh*t about Muse outside of Europe. And I get the sense bands like Arcade Fire and Alt J are just kind of experimenting with the format while they can. Basically, the current crop of stadium ready ROCK bands are few and far between, and aging very, very quickly. With Wilder Mind, Mumford and Sons bring some new blood to a select group of ROCK bands capable of capturing the masses in the ultimate, performance environment.
As I start to cool down and head home, Wilder Mind's last gasp of ecstasy, closer "Only Love", reaches its glorious crescendo....this is modern ROCK that feels absolutely necessary today. There are plenty of artists capable of filling stadiums...Kanye, Taylor, Beyonce and all that EDM garbage. But there are not many bands left...and I still believe in bands. So f*ck the backlash that accompanied the release of this album. F*ck Pitchfork ("vaguely Don Henley-inspired arena schlock") and Spin (who, in a truly idiotic review wondered if courting The National's Aaron Dessner for production work was nothing more than a play to improve the band's Metacritic score...because that is definitely what motivates one of the biggest bands in the world...their Metacritic score). There may not be as much sweat, muscle, and emotion pumping through Mumford's new, modern sound. But Wilder Mind marks a much bigger and ambitious stage in the band's career, as we recently witnessed first-hand on a chilly night in Coney Island back in June. Just as I'm hoping my journey culminates in one of my biggest personal achievements (OK, I've done it before...but it feels like a long time ago), I'm betting on Mumford to do the same...to conquer music's biggest arenas and take their place among the giants of ROCK.
We had our own encounter with Mumford back in the day. Check out our capture of the band at Music Hall of Williamsburg from 2010.