Mumford & Sons, Babel | Album Review
Babel, the highly-anticipated sophomore album from Mumford & Sons, gives them a solid, but not necessarily innovative album.
Babel, the sophomore album from Mumford & Sons, earns the distinction of being among the most anticipated efforts of 2012. While the resurgence of folk music isn’t new itself, Mumford & Sons have reestablished the culture and introduced it to a new audience. Overall, Babel is a solid album. To the new fans, it plays better than the most invested fan. The invested fan, may find the album ‘formulaic’ as opposed to innovative. Never bad and sometimes exceptional, Babel does enough to give the band a huge commercial hit without necessarily moving them forward.
Rarely does a title track earn highest accolades on any album. “Babel” bucks the trend. Characterized by the Mumford & Sons rhythmic machine, the cut is in six-eight meter. Ben Lovett’s piano adds a chordal foundation following respective verses. This preempts a contrast from roots-driven, gritty vocals by Marcus Mumford, in favor of a smoother melody. This push and pull helps to shape “Babel” into a compelling, well-rounded cut. It ends with an airy pad that segues into “Whispers in the Dark.”
“Whispers in the Dark” carries over the pad before invoking the signature folk-rhythmic instrumental. Throughout the verses, there is constant rhythmic motion. The motion is at softer dynamic levels, allowing for Marcus’ vocals to shine. Layered vocals provide a nice sheen. Overall, the record itself has a nice sound, firmly established in folk sensibility. “Whispers in the Dark” does fall short of the glory of title track, failing to be as emotionally dynamic.
“I Will Wait”
“I Will Wait” easily accepts the award for valedictory cut of Babel. The vocal harmonization is thoughtful throughout the verses. Marcus is supplied with better vocal production compared to “Whispers in the Dark.” The songwriting here is superbly penned. Excellent dynamic pacing and the fruition of a gargantuan sound that evokes the best of folk sensibility makes “I Will Wait” a Grammy contender.
Mumford & Sons remain on autopilot on “Holland Road.” The harmonic progression is familiar, a pro and con for the entirety of this effort. The pace is slower, contrasting “I Will Wait.” The bass (Ted Dwane) provides a sound foundation for the overt acoustic guitar and banjo rhythms to build on. Marcus delivers emotional, sincere A touch of brass within the production provides the cherry on top.
“Ghost That We Knew”
“Ghost That We Knew” opens with lovely acoustic guitar, highlighting the underlying harmonic scheme. Mumford’s vocals are restrained on the first verse. Timely addition of piano by Ben Lovett provides chordal support. “Ghost That We Knew” isn’t the crème de la crème, but offers more sound songwriting, particularly the chorus:
“So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light/ Cause oh that gave me such a fright…”
Predictably, the cut ends quietly as Marcus sings, “But the ghosts that we knew will flicker from you/and we’ll live a long life,” accompanied by acoustic guitar. The biggest quibble besides predictability is the length.
“Lover of the Light” takes a subtler approach before Mumford ‘lets it rip.’ With a gift for melody, he always allows the tune to be clearly discernible. Enjoyable enough, it benefits most from the chorus:
“But love the one you hold / And I’ll be your goal / To have and to hold / A lover of the light.”
The production, namely bowed strings, rhythm, and so on remains a selling point. Otherwise, the record is a bit drawn out.
“Lovers’ Eyes” is well-paced and well-conceived. The vocal production is clear. Mumford’s vocals are humbling, particularly as he references religion and forgiveness.
“Cuz I feel numb beneath your tongue / Your strength just makes me feel less strong / Do not ask the price I pay for I must live with my quiet rage / Tame the ghosts in my head that run wild and wish me dead…”
All in all, it’s beautiful, passionate, and exceptional. Follow-up “Reminder” clocks in at just over two minutes. Not be ‘memorable’ compared to the elite, it’s solid and enjoyable. Mumford is soulful here, accompanied by subtle keyboard pad and acoustic guitar.
At this point, Mumford & Sons have delivered some of their best material at the front of Babel. That’s no huge knock on the energetic “Hopeless Wanderer,” but a playful punch. There’s little unpredictability, hurting this song’s cause. Also, the vocals get a bit covered up when things grow incredibly dynamic and intense. “Broken Crown” is the best and most distinct of the closing quartet of Babel. Horns are added, tightening up the overall sound. Still, this is second-tier as opposed to first. “Below My Feet” benefits from a well-penned chorus, yet delivers nothing brand new. “Not with Haste” is okay – average at best.
Does the ‘good’ of Babel outweigh the ‘bad?’ Yes, Babel a very good album overall. Is it overhyped? Somewhat, as this album by no means the second coming. Could Babel land multiple Grammy nominations, including Album of the Year? Easily, though it’s NOT the best album of 2012. Ultimate, it’s a fine album, though Mumford & Sons could stand to take more risks. Things grow a bit predictable, which could be easily eradicated with some minor changes. Still, all in all, Babel gets it done.
Gems: “Babel,” “I Will Wait,” “Lover of the Light” & “Lovers’ Eyes”