For fans captivated by Mumford & Sons’ lead single “I Will Wait,” the wait is over. Babel, the sophomore release by the sweetheart band of the indie-folk revival, gives us a fresh dose of the sounds we’ve grown to love about this band over the past couple of years.
Given the option of exploring new ground or improving on their current sound, Mumford & Sons apparently opted for the latter, choosing to capitalize on and polish the facets of their act that initially garnered them worldwide fame. The result is that musically speaking, Babel covers similar ground to their breakout record Sigh No More, only with a bit more panache. One of those things that first excited us about Mumford & Sons was their ability to create a big sound with limited instrumentation (i.e., playing the hell out of acoustic guitars, banjos, and foot drums)—so naturally you’ll find plenty of those moments on the record. Also present are those wide dynamic ranges where the band goes from whisper-soft to super-loud, and back again. Marcus Mumford gives us plenty of growl, rasp and borderline scream on those high notes, but overall displays more vocal range and control than before (extensive heavy touring can do that to a guy). All in all, the band’s live performances of their songs have greatly impacted their popularity (many of us still remember their debut performance on David Letterman, for example)—thus, the record carries the same intensity and vibe of their live shows.
If you were able to pick up the numerous Biblical references on Sigh No More—yep, you’ll find even more of them on Babel. Raised in the evangelical Vineyard movement, Marcus Mumford draws frequently from his upbringing in his lyricism, howbeit not in a preachy way, but more in the context of asking honest questions and reconciling faith with love and life in general. “A brush with the devil can clear your mind, strengthen your spine,” Mumford sings on “Whispers In the Dark,” an apparent grappling with sin and redemption. “I’m a cad, but I’m not a fraud / I set out to serve the Lord.”
Almost predictably, romance is a prevailing theme on Babel as well, a probable outflow of Mumford’s recent marriage to actress Carrie Mulligan. In “Lover of the Light,” he belts out, “But love the one you hold / And I’ll be your goal / To have and to hold / The lover of the light.” (Interestingly enough, this song represents the one greatest diversion in musical style for the band on the album, with the presence of a full drum set driving the song, as opposed to the signature foot drum.)
Undisputedly, the band put their best foot forward with the single “I Will Wait,” and the recent live video from Red Rocks shows how well it plays before an audience. Another incredibly powerful moment on the record is “Broken Crown,” filled with dark, raw emotion: “Crawl on my belly till the sun goes down / I’ll never wear your broken crown / I took the road, and I f**ked it all away / In this twilight how dare you speak of grace”.
Critics and analysts will no doubt complain that Mumford & Sons didn’t do enough to expand their range on Babel, but in my opinion this is the smartest record the band could have made. Eventually they may have to grow past this point, but as fans, we are far from tired of these sounds. Save the breaking of new ground for another record; for now, at least, they have simply given us more of what we love.