Guest reviewer Howard Gorman takes us through Mumford & Son’s new chart-topping album Babel. If you would like to contribute to All-Noise get in touch on [email protected]
Mumford & Sons – Babel
More often than not, groups can’t beat off the second album syndrome. I’m glad to say Mumford and Sons have managed to pull it off with ‘Babel’. Obviously the band will come up against a barrage of expectations but that’s only to be expected. The band’s decision to stick to their guns for the best part of the record will be met with both delight and dismay. Stylistically speaking, they’ve only made baby steps (in a good way) keeping their feet firmly on ‘Little Lion Man’ stomping ground, with their trait finger picking barnstormers. Here’s a band consolidating their sound, overdosing the recording process with their live fervor – something they didn’t quite manage to pull of entirely first time round. Having road tested many of the tracks over the last eighteen months, the band have got the quiet/loud technique down to a tee, with each impulsive strum or vibrant string section effectively playing with us. Fans hoping for giant leaps and bounds are out of luck, although I don’t think the band are of the same opinion. Speaking to The Sun, they said: “The cynics can just all fuck off. We think this new record will attract a different audience, which is really exciting. And broaden people’s view of us.”
Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Coldplay) adds his production values a second time round and, despite his recent, production heavy, ‘Mylo Xyloto’, ‘Babel’ features tracks highly evocative of some of Coldplay’s earlier, more homegrown anthems. Clear examples of this are “Ghosts That We Knew” and “Reminder”, both tame, soothing tracks with the former stinking of audience participation. I have no doubt by now everyone who purchased this album on day one can’t get the following line out of their heads: “So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light. Cause oh that gave me such a fright”.
The album opens with the title track and the Sons’ familiar acoustic strumming. It’s a great opener blending contemporary English Folk and 1920s Hillbilly sounds, with Marcus shaking raspy-voiced fists at the sky, “I cry Babel, Babel, look at me now, the walls of my town they come crumbling down”. This sets the somewhat recurrent Biblical tone of the album, with second track “Whispers in the Dark” harking of the importance of serving the Lord whilst “Below My Feet” further proclaims Mr. Mumford’s faith in the words of his maker ‘But I was told by Jesus. All was well. So all must be well”. Having said that, I never felt he was ever proselytising, with his religious background serving simply to pack his love songs with a heavier lyrical punch.
The first single lifted from the album, “I Will Wait“, is a clear crowd-pleaser, with its stadium filling chorus, and lavishly supporting horns, banjo, and strings. Ben Lovett (keyboards) strangely described it as “the worst track on the record – we just thought we’d get it out.”
Mumford and Sons are not renowned for their angst but “Broken Crown” is a nice new touch and probably the band’s angriest track to date. In fact, I’m going to follow Mr. Mumford’s literary footsteps and say the track features “The most rugged minstrel this side of Erebor.” ‘Babel’, just like its predecessor, heavily references literature. Marcus wouldn’t even say which song contains an exact extract form Hilary Mantel’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel, Wolf Hall; “I’m not going to tell you which, because I think it might be illegal.”
Despite most of the album bearing more than a resemblance to their first effort, “Broken Crown” isn’t the only unexpected shift on ‘Babel’. The track “Hopeless Wanderer” is another fine example and, for me, the strongest song on the album. It’s a valediction to the band’s signature acoustic guitar intros, with the old eighty-eight taking centre stage.
In short, ‘Babel’ is by no means an extravagant metamorphosis of their original, winning formula but when you’re on to a winner, you’re on to a winner. Sorry to end the review with a truism, but the old adage is just as worthy of repeating as the Sons’ first album: If it ain’t broke……