Tuesday 25 September 2012

Mumford & Sons - Babel

There's only so much banjo one man can take.

'Babel', the latest album from folk rockers Mumford and Sons, is fine in short doses.  Take new single I Will Wait for example - by far the catchiest track on the album, it's exactly what you'd expect from the band.

But that's the problem with the album at large: it's exactly what you'd expect.

I Will Wait could easily have been an extra track from debut 'Sigh No More' and the majority of 'Babel' just doesn't live up to the band's previous highs.  It's also an album of two halves.  The first is a relentless string (no pun intended) of guitar strumming, banjo plucking and the odd fiddle.  The first four tracks are so similar they may as well be variations on the same song.  Then there's Mumford's declamatory vocals, culminating in his shouting of "The lover of the light!" on Lover of the Light, as if we hadn't quite got the name of the song. Whilst the band's on-stage energy and enthusiasm can be commended, on record it's overly vivacious - with so much going on the songs drown in their own rhythmic gusto with no space to breathe.

The second half is drenched in melancholy, lumbering along with heavy-footed emotion and descending into indie singer-songwriter territory.  It's like listening to Coldplay's Til Kingdom Come on repeat.  If the sheer repetitiveness of the album hadn't driven you to tears, the overt sentimentality of these troubadour songs will sucker punch you.  Where's the joy of 'Sigh No More'?  The catchy melodies?  The rich harmonies?  These are largely missing from 'Babel', rendering it a far inferior album.

There are still some highlights though.  Ghosts That We Knew is a beautiful ballad and is perhaps a subtle nod to ex-girlfriend Laura Marling's track Ghosts, adding an extra layer of poignancy.  Reminder may be the shortest track on the album, but it's a stripped back, Damien Rice-esque affair - the eye in the storm.  A cover of the Simon and Garfunkel classic The Boxer features as a bonus track, proving that with strong songwriting the Mumford style can really soar (even if it's missing the drum crashes of the original).

For fans of the band's debut, this album is a no-brainer.  But where 'Sigh No More' was fresh, 'Babel' is just more of the same, devoid of any considerable evolution in the band's sound.  Amongst the resurgence of folk acts, partly inspired by Mumford themselves, they have failed to confirm their place at the top of the pile, foiled by their own success.


Gizzle's Choice:
* I Will Wait
* Ghosts That We Knew
* The Boxer

Listen: 'Babel' is available now.

Watch: Mumford and Sons will be touring the UK in November and December.

You may also like...
* Laura Marling
* Luke Sital-Singh