By Vinnie Lione-Napoli
Bands such as Mumford & Sons oftentimes arise out of nowhere, only to cement themselves into their respective musical niches and transcend into the iconic and the integral. The banjo-toting, horn-blaring, drum-pounding, harmonizing British quartet has accomplished this to the greatest extent, rapidly developing stardom following their appearance at the Grammys in 2011.
The band, consisting of Marcus Mumford, Ben Lovett, “Country” Winston Marshall and Ted Dwane, performs in near-perfect cohesion on each track. While Mumford takes the helm, the group is so multi-talented that they constantly change instruments and perform alongside each other at live shows.
“Babel,” the band’s second studio album released at the end of September, extends the distinguishing sound of the debut album, “Sigh No More,” that captivated listeners across the globe. If fans were concerned about a possible genre shift following the group’s rapid rise to international fame, their worries can be put to rest.
Much of the initial appeal of “Sigh No More” stemmed from the refreshing indie-folk rock sound that Mumford & Sons deliver to mainstream audiences so successfully. What facilitated the album’s timelessness was precisely this folksy sound coupled with the overwhelming passion that the band is able to ingrain into every track. With “Babel,” Mumford & Sons acknowledges not only what they did well in the past, but also how they’re developing as a band.
A notable, if not obvious, difference between the two releases is the magnitude of fans that the group must now aim to please. One of the best qualities about this amiable quartet, however, is the emphasis they seem to place on providing high-quality music as opposed to raking in the profits they undoubtedly deserve.
The first single on the album, “I Will Wait,” was released in early August, although some other songs on “Babel” had been previously exposed at live performances. The song kicks off with a memorable banjo hook, effectively reminding listeners of why they fell in love with Mumford & Sons in the first place. Lyrics such as, “So break my step/And relent/Well you forgave and I won’t forget” revisit the poetic eloquence and themes of troubling love from the band’s debut effort. The delivery of the chorus and hectic harmony is reminiscent of the explosive ending of “The Cave,” the band’s hit singles from “Sigh No More.”
The title track of “Babel,” which also serves as the opening song, is one of the album’s strongest, both lyrically and musically. The catchy banjo melody that the quartet quickly launches flushes away any trepidation over the quality of the rest of the album.
Literary allusions, most notably Shakespeare references, were strewn across “Sigh No More,” and the band adapts their inherently strong lyricism for “Babel” noticeably well. Passion and emotion flood lyrics such as “I cry Babel, Babel, look at me now/Well the walls of my town they come crumbling down,” providing an apt transition into the powerful musical hook.
“Broken Crown” provides the album with a slower, more solemn track that builds up to a considerably impassioned second half. Like “Little Lion Man” of “Sigh No More,” this song supplies the seemingly obligatory expletives that made the former so memorable. However, the occasional strong language throughout in no way detracts from the quality of the song. The band, as always, weaves palpable emotion into their lyrics (“I’ll never wear your broken crown”) and manages to produce a remarkable track.
Tracks like “Holland Road” highlight the earnestness of Mumford’s voice and decorate the album with deeply moving musical journeys. The nature of the sound that the band has engineered emphasizes raw, folksy emotion and anecdotes of troubling love (“If you believe in me, I’ll still believe”).
In the transition between albums, the few changes that were made were augmented by a new degree of maturity and evolution.
While there appear to be fewer banjo romps and sing-along tunes this time around, the heartfelt lyrics and harmonious musical flavors deliver a rush of sentiment and a welcome reminder of their debut album.
“So come down from your mountain and stand where we’ve been,” Mumford sings in the title track. Humble roots and superb harmony define the band’s music and will unquestionably continue to propel them forward.