Babel may be just their second LP, but no introduction is necessary for those rustic London-based troubadours, Mumford & Sons. The music world, Ireland in particular, embraced the indie-folk group with open arms three years ago upon the release of their multi-million selling debut, Sigh No More. Those who enjoyed the banjo-laden rootsy vibe of that chart-topper are likely to be equally charmed by Babel.
With nothing unexpected nor daring on offer, Mumford & Sons are content to deliver more of the upbeat rambunctiousness which has made them such a hot commodity. Back again is that characteristic, almost emotionally manipulative quiet/loud dynamic, and back too are the sincere and erudite lyrics, drawing once more from a range of literary influences. Thematically, the group appears concerned primarily with musings on fate and hope. Babel is especially heavy on the quasi-religious references and spiritual undertones, though these are generally employed to beef up more conventional songs about life, love and relationships.
The urgency of the title track is indicative of what we have come to expect from the folk-rock act du jour. Lead single 'I Will Wait' is an early highlight, functioning as a blueprint of that steady build and drop template. The band's hitherto successful M.O. of minimalist banjo-plucking to pulsating bluegrass crescendo is utilised to stirring effect on tracks 'Lover of the Light' and 'Hopeless Wanderer', though it does risk exposing Mumford & Sons as sonically a one-trick pony.
As if to compensate for lack of variety, Marcus Mumford's powerful and honest vocals lend a sense of purpose to most tracks, as evident on the vulnerable and affecting 'Holland Row'. The multi-instrumental band members, along with producer Markus Dravs, have assembled a lush and pleasing record, one that also embraces an acoustic and piano-led quieter side, typified by the country inflections and introspection of 'Ghosts That We Knew'. For all this, though, Mumford & Sons' success story rests on their live performances. Many of Babel's tracks are designed for the stage. The rousing 'Whispers in the Dark' and the aforementioned 'Lover of the Light', both recent live staples, are the organic outcome of extensive road-testing. This is a band opting to generate an album in support of their live show rather than vice-versa.
Though Babel begins to stumble under its own weight in the latter third, Mumford & Sons have delivered a sophomore effort with sufficient crossover appeal to satisfy both musos and commercial radio DJs. It is the sound of a group ever aware of what their audience wants to hear. Fortunately the amiable London-based quartet does not need to pander to that ever-expanding fanbase by compromising their vision of harmonics and mandolins. Vitally, Babel retains the ingredients to facilitate the communal rallying of a stomping barn dance frenzy. This is a confident record where elements of Sigh No More have been embellished and honed. Ultimately, the album is a 'same, but better' success. Though closely related to its predecessor, Babel represents a definite progression.
Review by Killian Barry