I was pretty excited to hear that Mumford and Sons was releasing another album. Their first LP, Sigh No More, was, for me at least, the soundtrack of 2011. This funny little outfit from London swam across the pond and took the American music scene by storm, firmly inserting themselves into radio lineups amidst the likes of Rihanna, Lady Gaga, and Lil Wayne. They brought with them a powerful, folky, bluegrass-infused rock sound, plus horns, and suddenly there are hipsters coming out of the woodwork. Coincidence? I think not.
Babel is currently in the number 2 position on Billboard’s Rock Album chart, with Sigh No More holding strong at number 11. That pretty much sums up Babel.
The title track kicks off the album, coming out strong with more of the Mumford and Sons we have come to know and love. The first few chords from the acoustic guitar say that you will be eased into this album gently, but then the bass drum and banjo hit you in the face. You stomp your foot to a pub-rockin good time for a few bars, and then harmonies and piano bring you back down a bit. That was your refresher course in Mumford and Sons.
“I will wait” has a country feel to it, and has even made waves on country radio stations. I think that officially makes them a crossover artist. Hopefully that influence will continue, because country music has a bad habit of being an exact copy of pop music, sung with a southern accent.
At times, I feel like they are trying too hard to play to what they had going on Sigh No More, namely, insane dynamics and really great build. “Hopeless Wanderer” tries to start off soft and work up to a really big, high-energy crescendo. Unfortunately, the transitions aren’t very smooth, with completely different cadences and keys used in separate passages. I really want to like this song, but it feels a little schizophrenic.
Babel’s slower songs are pushed toward the second half of the album, “Not with Haste”, “The Boxer”, and “Where Are You Now” standing out for me, the vocals and guitar work being generally flawless.
Babel is an amazing follow-up to Sigh No More, but unfortunately, comparisons must be made between the two; Babel can’t be evaluated in a vacuum. Personally, I think Sigh No More is the stronger of the two, but I can’t say with certainty that I would feel that way if I had listened to Babel first.
Standing on its own, Babel shows that earthy, folky music still has a place in mainstream music, and proves that Sigh No More wasn’t just a fluke. I think I can safely say that we should expect more great things from Mumford and Sons in the future.
I give Babel five banjos out of five.