Review Summary: Mumford & Sons deliver Sigh No More Pt. II
I was fully prepared to hate this. If you had any idea the number of semi-clever headlines I had queued for this – my favorites being “they really fucked it up this time” and “sigh some more” – then you’d appreciate that I actually feel a small sense of remorse for enjoying Babel
to the extent that I do. And to be truthful, I really can
understand why some people would want to drill into their ears medieval-headache-style to relieve their perceived pain over Mumford & Sons’ newest batch of trite indie-pop tunes. I don’t think Mumford & Sons are the Neil Armstrong of modern music; if anything they are the Christopher Columbus. He set sail into previously discovered territory and reaped all of the accolades bestowed upon him; or in Mumford & Sons’ case, they were hailed by the media for “making indie relevant again.” Sure
. Not even a gullible, pop-punk appreciating chap like me will buy that. But either way, it is not my intention to bash one of the world’s most famous explorers or
this band – because even though Mumford & Sons don’t fearlessly blaze new trails, I don’t have any complaints about what they’ve accomplished from their comfort zone. They craft catchy, accessible folk music while masturbating a banjo, and since when was that such a bad thing?
To a large extent, Babel
is exactly what you would expect it to be. The lyrics are interesting but sometimes cliché, the musicianship is solid, and the album as a whole radiates an upbeat brand of energy that is difficult not to get swept up in. If you’ve heard Mumford & Sons stomp and strum their hearts out before, then you should know what you’re getting yourself into. The effect can certainly wear off over time and begin to feel contrived – bordering on artificial, even. But the band never apologizes for who they are on Babel
, and that forthrightness allows them to hone in on their craft and make it better. That isn’t to say that their sophomore effort is a progression, but it is certainly an expansion upon their already successful formula – which means that people who enjoyed Sigh No More
should find plenty to like on Babel
Even if most of the tracks here are instantly recognizable as Mumford & Sons songs, the band comes through where it counts. It is pretty damn catchy from start to finish, with ‘I Will Wait’ and ‘Babel’ leading the way. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the band’s songwriting has improved, from the lush, regal-sounding horns that close out ‘Holland Road’ to the gradual build within ‘Lover of the Light’ that culminates in a frenzy of horns, pianos, acoustic strumming, and an unforgettable chorus. Some of the slower tracks are also surprisingly decent, with ‘Ghosts That We Knew’ featuring a delicate banjo/acoustic guitar interchange and ‘Reminder’ stripping things down to the bare essentials: a man and his acoustic guitar. The lyrics tend to falter on the ballads though, which leaves them feeling rather naked. This comes as a surprise because bands will typically tone down their instruments when they have something to say – and that quite simply isn’t the case here. But apart from the band’s generic tendencies and some questionable decisions in balancing song tempos and lyrics, Babel
is unshakably confident and exuberantly infectious – a deadly combination when it boils down to how enjoyable the record is.
So that pretty much leaves us exactly where we thought we’d be prior to even hearing Babel
. Mumford & Sons is one of those bands that delivers what they promise. If you despised Sigh No More
, then you will find nothing here that even attempts to change your mind. If you found the band’s debut to be charming and fun, then Babel
is absolutely worth your time and money. It may seem crass to draw the line so distinctly, but chances are you already know whether or not you’ll like this album. So the question ultimately boils down to this: when will Mumford & Sons release a banjo-instrumental album just for giggles?