‘Long-anticipated’ is thrown about with little care these days, but in the case of the album releases of Mumford and Sons it is more than justified. It has been three, long years since the multi-platinum Sigh No More announced the arrival of these darlings of the West London folk scene.
And then, silence.
Yes, there was Live from Shepherd’s Bush Empire, and a handful of extended plays, but what the world craved was that highly treacherous beast known as the ‘second album.’
And now it has arrived.
Babel is familiar ground for Mumford fans. Many of the songs have been road-tested during concerts over the past few years, while the sound of the album itself is indistinguishable from the debut. Which is a good idea if you ask me, because, like Mumford and Sons, if it ain’t broken then don’t fix it.
The album begins with a thunderous guitar line reminiscent of classic folk, but the title track is most memorable for the challenging call-to-arms, “I know my weakness, know my voice. And I believe in grace and choice'”.
Whispers in the Dark is a typical slow-to fast-tempo Mumford special that sweeps into the multi-rhymed guitar and chaotic banjo picking of I Will Wait.
Track four is special. Not only is Holland Road one of the album’s finest offerings, but a career highlight to date. Intersected by triumphant instrumental sections, and structured around the repetition of “I still believe” and “you cut me down”, this poignant ballad has the potential to become a cult anthem.
Ghosts That We Knew is all about the vocal capacity of Marcus Mumford, and he doesn’t fail to deliver. Rising and falling from note to note, Mumford leads the listener through his entire range with all the ease and power of a classically-trained chorister.
Lover of the Light is a lively wee yarn, while Lover’s Eyes has all the hallmarks of vintage folk. Reminder is something different, but it doesn’t do much for me as I am not a fan of a cappella. Hopeless Wanderer is musically the weakest song on the album, but the poetic ability of the band shines through nonetheless
Broken Crown is a real treat. A neatly syncopated string lilt skips along in-between choral sections that really showcase the band’s vocal abilities. The song has a haunting and menacing edge that puts me in mind of strife, colonial North America and pirates. Not sure why mind you, but the image is cracker and keeps bringing me back for another listen.
The momentum fizzles out a little in Below My Feet, plodding along without purpose until the advent of a thoroughly rousing chorus in the last minute. Which leads nicely to the aptly named Not With Haste, and even though it has a skipping mandolin and banjo line towards the end, the album does well to come to a close with such a reflective tone.
Babel is a mature and confident album by a mature and confident band. It was never going to be easy for a bunch of wee lads to follow an award-winning masterpiece such as Sigh No More. But truth be told, not only does Babel tower over Sigh No More in both quality and competency, but it lays down a gauntlet few would envy.
And you know what? Mumford and Sons are more than able to live up their own reputation.
Watch this space…