Well here it is, the boys are back, and I can’t think of any album that has been more anticipated this year than the follow-up to Sigh No More. Mumford & Sons started off making the rounds within the London folk scene, then rose up the charts and festival stages, stormed their way to America and, after challenging the likes of Justin Bieber in the US charts, became one of the most talked about bands on the planet. But with the world in the their hands and the love for their debut album still swelling in the hearts of fan-girls and seasoned folkies alike, it seems that the pressure is really on, and Babel and the boys have a lot to live up to.
It was said earlier this year, by producer of the album Markus Dravs, that they all had an ‘if it ain’t broke’ kind of attitude towards the new record, and it’s obvious from the start that Babel is another, no holds barred Mumford & Sons album, full of all the stomping, screaming energy that we’ve come to expect. Title-track and opener Babel is a blistering introduction in which Marcus declares that he’ll tear down any walls in his path in this anthem of freedom and power. Songs like this and recent single I Will Wait let you know quickly that they’re back, and they’re not taking their foot off the pedal anytime soon. The first few songs of the album are a fast, frenzied collection, which, when compared to Sigh No More, show the different outlook the band have, now that they know they’ll be playing big venues, and will need big songs.
However, as most followers of Mumford will have heard, they promised a ‘darkness’ to the album, and so it was obvious that this big festival sound of energy and positivity wouldn’t last for 12 tracks. There is definitely a noticeable change once songs such as Ghosts That We Knew and Lover Of The Light begin, but whilst they do have a deep resonance, and as Marcus sings how ‘the ghosts that we knew, will flicker from view, and we’ll live a long life’ with not a real hint of darkness, but a deeper feeling that suggests that rather than uncovering their own dark thoughts, this album is more simply about Mumford & Sons becoming a bit more personal. Though songs like Lover’s Eyes, with its blasting trumpets and custom thumping end, and Hopeless Wanderer, with a light twinkling piano giving way to a full-bodied guitar thrashing and a unfaltering four way harmony, do seem to give confessions of loneliness and regret from a band now living almost constantly away from home, I didn’t really see a ‘dark side’ so much as a ‘truthful side’, a side that’s come out now they know they have the chance to release all their talent to the world. Confession and repentance quickly take hold as themes, as songs like Broken Crown see Marcus spitting about sin and destruction over the apocalyptic crashes of banjos and trumpets, and Reminder, with its contrasting simplicity, has a heartbreaking and rare sincerity to it. Babel suggests a greater feeling of self-confidence, the ability to really show what’s inside Mumford & Sons, which is not gloom, but boldly crafted music.
Through experience and fame, and endless collaborations, Marcus has really perfected his songwriting, and the band’s ‘sound’ has certainly grown more established with age; but even with that loud, spirited sound that we love, this record is still missing the same hooks Sigh No More had. The catchy opening to The Cave or the unforgettable chorus of Little Lion Man marked moments of genius, and here there just doesn’t seem to be any equivalents, and though the tracks on Babel are more clever, at times more beautiful and have a seamlessness between them that the first didn’t, they just don’t seem as memorable. It is without a doubt a great album, and, with no weak tracks, one that can easily be played in its full each time; but for a band like Mumford & Sons, who have had so much hype to live up to, they have fallen a bit short of expectation. However, even if Babel is my second choice behind Sigh No More, the boys have sure done enough to keep their place on top of the world.