Album Review: Mumford And Sons’ Babel
With banjos blazing and foot-stomping galore, the English quartet Mumford & Sons are back with their highly anticipated second album Babel. Their gritty and triumphant take on folk rock has seen unparalleled success around the world in the past few years, which has consequently built high expectations for their follow up to the commercial success of Sigh No More. After all, it’s pretty hard to top a musical journey that has included playing at the Grammys with Bob Dylan and performing for President Barack Obama at the White House.
Blood, heartbreak, sin and redemption are prominent themes on Babel and a recurring feature in their songs is an exploration of striving to remain un-jaded and free of the cynicism that closes one off to the possibilities that life can offer in a very imperfect world. “Don’t let your heart grow cold” – sung on “Hopeless Wanderer” – is a refrain that pervades much of this band’s music, whether it is overt or not. Religious undertones are far more apparent in this album, but not to the point of distraction. An apt way to describe much of the material is that they are biblically-framed songs.
Babel is dark, emotionally gripping, and touches on vulnerability; it is also grounded in lauding humility and the simplicity of what matters most in life: love, in its many forms. In “Below My Feet” lead singer Marcus Mumford sings, “Keep the earth below my feet … let me learn from where I have been.”
“I will wait” is the first single off the album and it adheres to a similar formula that found the band so much success in the first place, with a dash of horns as well, much like “Winter Winds.” Many of the album’s songs rely on dramatic builds, which has become a staple of this band’s sound but in certain respects can be a little formulaic or clearly intended to rock out an arena. Then again, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The standout tracks on Mumford’s first album were the barnstormers and the high-octane tracks that particularly came alive when performed on stage. Notably, some of Babel’s most promising material lies in the quieter and more reflective tracks. For example, “Ghosts that we knew” and “Reminder” are simply beautiful. Overall, the album as a whole sounds a little less rootsy and ventures into hard rock territory more so than Sigh No More.
Many critics have been quick to dismiss the authenticity of this band or the so-called revivalism of folk under the guise of rock and bluegrass. However, this entirely misses the point of Mumford & Sons. This is a band that is clearly devoted to making good music, bringing people together through a shared love of tunes that have something to say, and simply put, having a good time with little in the way of serious pretensions. The point is don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Music needs this band in the mainstream to break up the monotony of pointless and trivial pop that swarms the airwaves.
I have seen this band perform live twice and have always been impressed by their stage craftsmanship, gratitude to their fans, good natured humor, and the camaraderie of four friends who don’t seem much changed by their huge success. Babel is sure to please new and old fans alike and build on the skyrocketing popularity that seems to have no bounds.