Huset, Copenhagen, DEN - 8/12
Mumford & Sons
Written by: TL on 14/10/2012 14:15:07
Two years ago, it felt like British folk-rock quintet Mumford & Sons went from total obscurity to widespread mainstream appreciation in a flash, riding their debut LP "Sigh No More" and especially the single "Little Lion Man", which I'm sure most of you will have heard at least once. Such explosive success is exactly what gets a lot of casual music listeners to swear that you're the best new thing in music, and it's exactly the thing that gets reviewers worried about whether you're just going to sound derivative or worse, like a sellout, when you have to return and live-up to your own hype on your sophomore album.
Enter "Babel", Mumford & Sons' sophomore album which, if your ears work anything like mine, is going to appear to you like pretty much the exact same thing as "Sigh No More", at least for quite a bit of way down the stretch. If you heard lead single "I Will Wait" and thought "ah, more of the same then", I certainly would not blame you, because my first handful of trips through this album also had me wondering just how many more times the guys would be content with milking the dramatic, gradual layering of horns upon banjo upon acoustic guitars, with the answer consistently being "at least once more".
So I won't blame you either if you just dismiss "Babel" as such, but I will say it is sort of a shame. Because if you spend a little longer with it, it's hard not to conclude that however limited Mumford & Son's selection of song recipees are, they are still good enough to be worthy of continuing reinterpretation. No you will not find the flashes of instrumental signatures from either banjos, horns, guitars or whichever other instruments the multi-talented bandmembers bring to bear, that you find in most strong rock records. Nor will you find any groundbreaking sounds or tricks of production... But that's because Marcus Mumford and his mates have never intended to be anything but a traditional songwriting band. Their craft is one of doing things by the book, layering those guitars and horns and banjos effectively, creating the best possible dramatic background for Mumford's Glen Hansard-ish singing and lyrics. And sure, the meaning and coherence might occasionally get lost in religious references, but only as often as they also strike the kind of relatable phrasings that eventually has made "Babel" a better record in my eyes than "Sigh No More".
Through listening to highlights of romantic proclamations such as "Babel", "I Will Wait" and the rousing "Lover Of The Light" you can feel a pervasive mood in "Babel", of a person who comes into the record wanting to believe in love strongly, only to have his belief tested by doubt and disappointment, and to yet come out on the other end galvanised in his resolve. Mumford sings his faith in "Lover Of The Light", encouraging us to "love the one you hold / and that will be your goal / to have and to hold / a lover of the light!", but it's a wide-eyed stubborn response to a resistance met in opener "Babel" which goes: "press my nose up to the glass around your heart / I should have known I was weaker from the start / you build your walls and I play my bloody part / I'm gonna tear, tear them down". This overblown romantic willingness seems one he grapples with in the chorus to "Hopeless Wanderer", and eventually he comes out more sensible, yet still faithful, as he ends the album intend on loving with urgency yet "Not With Haste".
So while this record might not be at all innovative, or even that consistent, I think it would be a stuck up choice to ignore it because it is as universally encouraging and relatable as it is. Those are strengths, not weaknesses people. Granted, I think only six of the twelve tracks on offer are memorable to the point of highlight-worthiness, but hey, that's a pretty good ratio in my book, and it becomes a very small issue when you consider how well this album is sequenced, with each mellow moment carefully positioned as just a curve between two more uplifting songs. It might earn me right around zero credits from the cool crowd, but I'm enough of a misty-eyed romanticist to have grown more and more appreciative of "Babel" with each play, so I will not consider it beneath me to enjoy them live, bouncing among a host of radio-fans at any opportunity I might get.
Download: Lover Of The Light, Hopeless Wanderer, Babel, I Will Wait, Not With Haste
For The Fans Of: Of Monsters And Men, The Frames, Ben Howard, Dry The River
Release Date 21.09.2012
Island / Glassnote