Mumford and Sons: Babel
With regards to success Mumford and Sons has been a bit like a ball of fire. With the release of Sigh No More, in 2009, this English four piece went from the obscurity of scenester circles to Grammy nominations with a fury few could have expected. But could they have conquered the world in any other fashion? Despite the ferocity of distortion and electric guitars few rock bands match the sonic intensity this purely acoustic act manages to milk from traditional instruments. When Country Winston Marshall’s disparaging banjo licks reach crescendo and ignite against the painful pitch of Marcus’s Mumford’s delivery the result is a white hot streak that can sometimes be nothing less than humbling. Unfortunately the light that burns brightest, also burns quickest.
The high expectations for Mumford and Sons’ second album, Babel, may incite some to claim the group has entered the often cited sophomore slump. Though the album’s single “I Will Wait” has recently saturated airwaves from the lowly college radio station to nationally syndicated programs, it contains nothing to match either the arresting music or lyrical richness of either “Little Lion Man” or “The Cave” from their first album.
Perhaps Sigh No More never received proper scrutiny. Both critically acclaimed and commercially pleasing Mumford and Sons were generally accepted as a self contained tour-de-force off the strength of those two songs alone but a deeper listen past the hit singles left me personally underwhelmed. Be that as it may, one can’t deny the approach utilized on their first album served as a breath of fresh air; it was dramatic yet still entertaining, dark but with a glimmer of honest self awareness that kept the work as a whole from all out despair.
While Babel maintains these elements, the approach is no longer so crisp. What’s more Babel lacks a comparable track to match Sigh‘s singles. Worse yet, as the album wears on the dramatic lifting and compression of dynamics begins to reveal oft trodden patterns until the songs become less individually identifiable. This leaves the audience with the impression Mumford might very well be a one trick pony.
The biggest fault on this album could be the lyrics. Easy, almost juvenile lines permeate the work, especially on tracks like “I Will Wait,” “Lover’s Eyes,” and the album’s titular track. I appreciate Mr. Mumfords attempt at weightier subjects, but the lyrics rarely seem to surpass that verb: attempt.
While the over arching themes on Babel become tiring, it is certainly still worth a listen. As with the first album, Country Winston Marcus delivers passionately crafted and intricately executed banjo work. To hear banjo outside top forty country is a wonder in and of itself, but Mr. Marcus’ lines are so abundant and powerful its doubtful there could be a Mumford and Sons without him.
MP3: Mumford and Sons “I Will Wait”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl