Mumford & Sons: Babel

Posted October 30, 2012 by in



3.5/ 5


Genre: Folk, Americana, indie rock
Producer: Markus Dravs
Label: Glassnote
Format: Cd, digital download, vinyl
Time: 52:17
Release Date: 21 September 2012
Spin This: I Will Wait, Broken Crown, Babel, Holland Road


The mix of easy-listening Brit folk and Appalachian-tinged arena rock still works


Albeit a minute gripe, listeners are still awaiting the next phase in musical growth

Mumford & Sons’ second disc plays like the sequel to Sigh No More and a little bit more

by J Matthew Cobb
Full Article

Mumford & Sons’ second disc plays like the sequel to Sigh No More and a little bit more

What works the first time should work the second time. Apparently this is the code of arms that Brit folk band Mumford & Sons lives by as they journey back into their rollicking Americana heard on their second disc, Babel. Culturally speaking, Sigh No More surprised us all. Although the recent Americana craze proved to successful on recent albums by Neil Young, Elton John & Leon Russell, the Decemberists and Robert Plant, it was Mumford & Sons who carried the torch, starting with the domination of album sales and wrapping up on the Grammys’ big stage, where they joined forces with folk god Bob Dylan and the Avett Brothers on a rock n’ rolling reinvent of “Maggie’s Farm.” This time around, the Mumford boys are firing up the fire pit using more off their whiskey folk. Dollied up with acoustic guitar strumming and the parade of ukulele, mandolin and banjos, Babel seems to reverberate many of the nuances of Sigh No More, almost as if it’s an immediate sequel to its predecessor.

With producer Markus Dravs behind the wheel (see Arcade Fire’s superb The Suburbs for an example of his good stuff), Babel does three things in its performance: 1) It tends to impress at first listen 2) familiarize listeners with what Mumford & Sons unanimously stand for 3) offer up more of the same, as it hardly improves on Sigh No More and simply recycles it. On the title track, the pounding drums and jangling guitars echo with a loud exuberance, as if it’s one of their colorful live finales. Then “I Will Wait” enters the picture, blending Kings of Leon sentimentality with Appalachian rigor – easily transforming into the album’s strongest and most rewarding cut. Songs like “Holland Road” and “Lover of the Light” appear as nice additions to the set, but seem to hang on the vapors of its standout. The comforting warm ballad “Ghosts That We Knew” comes as a bit of a surprise, as it plays with dark subliminal messages, and appears almost ghoulish on paper (“So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light/’Cause oh that gave me such a fright”). Still, a sharper dose of Springsteen depth in its lyricism would’ve rescued the song from its banality. The bonus tracks of the expanded set, featuring “For Those Below” and the Amos Lee-sounding “Where Are You Now” continue that midtempo Southern pride trend. It’s decently good, but nothing expanding past their neo folk frontier.

As the album travels onward, the folksy ballads become obviously prevalent and ring with the gusto of early Dylanesque offerings. Halfway in, the mood seems to fall into the trap of easy-listening pandering. Interesting enough, “Broken Crown,” tucked on the backend of Babel, rings out with a Fleet Foxes-like pathos. It shows signs of a more progressive direction for the band’s next phase, where an unexpected shower of horns pick up on the dramatic coda and Marcus Mumford snarls at his troubled weaknesses, while trying to fight back at life’s temptations: “So crawl on my belly ’til the sun goes down/I’ll never wear your broken crown /I took the road and I fucked it all away.” It’s a fight of open air transparency that’s thought-provoking and essentially relatable to most that are able to grasp its convoluted deep meanings.

Lead singer Marcus Mumford goes hard on the gritty vocals, even channeling his best Caleb Followill/Bono impersonation. He’s becoming a transcendental frontman focused on tearing down those meek mainstream stereotypes of modern folk and breaking into the upper epsilon of rock band commanders. If anything, Babel succeeds in beefing up the Mumford regimen and polishing up the lead singer’s mantle.


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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