"Babel," the new Mumford & Sons album, was released this week to much anticipation. Word On Fire Research Assistant Jack Thornton reviews the album and discusses what it has to say about grace and redemption.
It’s hard to imagine any real problems or hardships that result from creating a critically acclaimed hit record that catapults a band from obscurity into immense popularity. One issue that certainly accompanies such success, however, is the question of how to adequately follow that album with other valuable records. When a debut album appears that everyone knows, most people like, and many love, there is a lot pressure on the musicians to produce a record that can live up to the quality of the previous one.
You can feel that pressure when listening to Mumford & Sons’ second record, "Babel." The London group’s debut, "Sigh No More," skyrocketed them to the forefront of the indie rock scene, and the folksy bluegrass style they used to get there only made them all the more appealing to the masses starving for quality music in an age where Auto-Tune and bubblegum party anthems rule the pop charts. Mumford & Sons stay within their comfort zone in "Babel," and reuse the formula that made their debut such a success: lyrics about love, grace and flaws, with a fair amount of religious and literary references thrown in, sung with throaty soul by singer-songwriter Marcus Mumford over a popping, bouncing medley of bass thumps, ferocious acoustic guitar strums and dancing banjos.
The group has taken some critical heat for essentially repeating the sound of "Sigh No More," and it’s easy to see why. "Babel" is a perfect example of the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality, and every track sounds like a slightly more polished version of hits from their debut. It would have been nice to see where these talented young men can go creatively, but ultimately Mumford & Sons didn’t need to drastically change their sound. They didn’t need to make their "Kid A" or their "Sgt. Pepper." Not yet. They’re a young band just discovering success, and their decision to take a little bit more time to hone their current sound is just fine — as long as the songs hold up. And they do. Even though the album isn’t groundbreaking or experimental — and perhaps not quite as good as some of the highlights from "Sigh No More" — the melodies are often lovely and always exciting...