Mumford and Sons is back with their sophomore release “Babel,” bringing their trademark brand of pop influenced folk rock back to the forefront of the American and UK music scene. The album’s debut sold 600,000 copies in its opening week, blowing the previously held mark of 374,000 by Justin Bieber out of the water.
Without a doubt, Mumford and Sons is leaving its mark on the music industry, as it is quite possibly the most well known band on the planet, based on record sales and their international audience. Mumford and Sons’ first record, “Sigh No More,” sold over five million copies to date. With this groundbreaking popularity, fans of the band were definitely anticipating the release of their second album So how did the band live up to the hype of their first album?
By sticking to what worked in the previous album, they succeeded. “Babel” is an album filled to the brim with anthem-like choruses, powerful build-ups and jarring breakdowns, all while paying homage to Mumford and Son’s folk roots. The band decided to highlight their unique formula for songwriting, utilizing the various folk instruments they love and joining them with front man Marcus Mumford’s personal lyrics in “Babel.”
One need look no further than the opening track to find that Mumford and Sons is the same band that we fell in love with on “Sigh No More,” and at the same time, pulling out all the stops with their new album. The title track, “Rousing,” is a call to arms for those battered by the world, opening with urgently strummed acoustic guitar. This joins Mumford’s ever-emotionally earnest voice and banjo-player Winston Marshall’s trademark panicked banjo picking. T
he combination creates Mumford and Son’s trademark folk sound, but on the largest of arena rock scales. Then, as if giddy for the album to begin, Mumford yelps like a joyous child, letting his audience know that, despite his popularity, he has not sacrificed his vocal or lyrical sincerity and openness.
Yet, in their pursuit of capturing the greatness of their live concert experience and trying to channel that energy in album form, it seems that the band sacrifices some aspects of what made “Sigh No More” so great. Namely, their creativity has taken a backseat to pop, power and passion. While “Sigh No More” was full of creative licks on the banjo and guitar, along with original and creative phrasings, “Babel” definitely abandons this creativity.
There is a sense that one has heard it before as they listen through the album. It really doesn’t branch out creatively from “Sigh No More.” There are, of course, exceptions to this. For instance, halfway into the track “Hopeless Wanderer,” the listener is met with one of the most striking and creative breakdowns Mumford has to offer.
Despite what the critics say about the creativity of this album, the passionate, emotional authenticity that Mumford & Sons brings in “Babel” is enough to grab one’s attention and keep them coming back for its powerful folk and pop melodies and build-ups.Marcus’ genuine and unabashed lyrics exercise power through the album, making even the dullest musical parts of “Babel” interesting. On the track “Broken Crown,” for instance, Mumford cries: “Crawl on my belly ‘till the sun goes down/I’ll never wear your broken crown/I took the road and f****** it all away/Now in this twilight how dare you speak of grace.”
The album has anthem-like singles in “I Will Wait,” and “Holland Road.” It also finds a genuine mix of creativity, passion and just plain good songwriting in “Whispers in the Dark,” “Broken Crown” and “Lover’s Eyes,” along with Mumford’s indulgences with ballads in “Reminder” and “Ghosts that We Knew.” The album explores heavy thematic material of love lost, love gained, hope, fear and faith. The last of which Mumford is so brazen in presenting that the content seems to be on the edge of evangelistic.
Is the album going to blow anybody’s mind? Probably not. Is it as huge as Mumford and Son’s debut? No way. However, this album builds strongly upon the band’s foundation established in “Sigh No More,” and does so with added passion and even more honesty lyrically. The songs explore profound topics, rise to epic heights musically, slow to somber reflections and ultimately leave the listener emotionally fulfilled. If Mumford and Sons is to become the new face of popular music, it will be well deserved with their biting lyrics and pronounced folk rock style.