‘Babel’ review: Mumford and Sons second album

Babel review: Mumford and Sons second album

Photo from Mumford and Sons official website

JP Salazar, Editor-in-Chief

The British indie band Mumford and Sons, comprised of lead singer Marcus Mumford, Ben Lovett, Winston Marshall and Ted Dwane, crashed onto the UK folk music scene and revived (or maybe even recreated) it in the US with their debut album “Sigh No More” in 2010. After establishing their simplistic but impactful sound, they dug deeper into their roots with their sophomore release “Babel”, which sounds like it may have been recorded in a villa somewhere in the rolling English country.

The basic sound of “Babel” won’t appeal to those who have disregarded Mumford and Sons as a hipster band that makes songs that all sound the same, and it won’t seem very different to those who enjoyed their prior release either. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Now that Mumford and Sons has established itself as a potential pot of gold for their label, Island Records, they have more freedom in terms of the creative direction of their productions. It is clear that Mumford and Sons had a say in and enjoyed every second of their production. It is rare for an album to stay completely true to a group’s vibe and conception, but “Babel” is still loyal to the bluegrass alternative rock that their fans loved so much the first time.

The album’s first track, “Babel”, is a fitting introduction to the album. Babel means a noise-filled scene and the song fits the description well, with two fast-paced, energetic riffs. The song progresses like an unexpected city riot with lyrics that tell everyone their time is numbered and, after a slower measure, describe a chaotic scene in which an unnamed town crumbles to the ground. This song introduces a lifelong battle Mumford and Sons has been fighting, and the rest of the songs in the album establish the setting and character of the protagonist.
Faithful imagery of a man in love with the people who have helped him rebel against a higher order are abundant in the album. The contrast between light and dark is heavily referenced and at times some of the songs sound very gospel-like. In “Lover of The Light” Mumford belts out the title of the track during the chorus resulting in a Christian rock effect. These lyrics of light and dark could be construed as religiously figurative, but Mumford has denied any religious ties in the album. Yet some people will still connect the songs to some sort of Christian religion and might be offended or put off by some of the lyrical choices, such as “I set out to serve the lord”, “spare my sins for the ark” and references to the Devil in the song “Whisper in The Dark”.
This story-telling aspect makes each song symbolically unique but some people will be bored with the similar song compositions. When hearing the album, one will ask themself if they are still listening to the same song after the previous track has ended. But if each song represents a step in a journey of a lost romantic, then it only makes sense that the songs don’t have a radically different sound. This is the main reason some may neglect the album, but it is also the reason so many will adore it – the artistry is consistent.
It is imperative to listen to the songs multiple times to decide which ones are favorites and which may be skipped on the playlist. The best songs in the album are the official single “We Will Wait”, “Broken Crown”, “Holland Road”, “The Boxer” (deluxe edition only), “Babel”, the somber ballad “Ghosts That We Knew” and “Lover of the Light”. The other songs on the album are just too similar to different, better songs on it, so sadly, it’s just a pick-and-choose sort of thing.
The vocals on the album are nothing special, but they are strong and consistent. In some songs, Mumford harmonizes with his bandmates, producing an eerie, echoing effect. More risks could’ve been taken, but again, it’s just them staying true to their sound.
With a few plucks of the mandolin and guitar, the somber notes of a piano, evolving song tempos and steady vocals, “Babel” is a minimalistic effort that any true fan of Mumford and Sons, and anyone looking to get away from the over-produced songs that have found their way to radios everywhere, will consider a gem.