I feel as though this review requires a disclaimer: Mumford & Sons — Marcus Mumford, “Country” Winston Marshall, Ben Lovett, and Ted Dwane — is my favorite band and I worship every word that comes out of their god-like lips. That being said, I will attempt to listen to their new album, Babel, with the ear of an average fan and give you more than just a gushing review.
A funny thing happened when the band released their debut album, Sigh No More, in 2009: where before country, hip-hop and alternative fans rarely mixed, boundaries were crossed almost overnight. Mumford & Sons managed to transcend classification; their catchy melodies and occasionally explicit declarations of love, backed by Country Winston's mad banjo picking, heart-wrenching harmonies, and Marcus Mumford's passionate rasp launched “indie rock” into the mainstream. The conclusion I've drawn is that there really is no such thing as an “average” Mumford & Sons fan; everyone I have met is either deeply in love with their music or can't stand listening to it, and I believe this will remain the case with Babel.
The world was given a taste of the new album with the release of the band’s single “I Will Wait.” This song is a version of the track “Nothing Is Written” which they began performing a couple years ago but never officially recorded and released as a single. The melody and lyrics are the same, but the new version starts much more explosively and carries a higher energy throughout. Oh, and the chorus: “I will wait / I will wait for you” is brand new. The words are simple and almost clichéd, but something about the sincerity and desperation in Marcus' voice makes you feel like he invented the phrase. And this track, just like the entire album, has poetic verses that blow you away. Lines without clear meaning such as “Raise my hands, paint my spirit gold and bow my head, keep my heart slow,” make you somehow still understand what the band wants you to feel.
The rest of the album is, as expected, drenched in heartbreaking poetry and melodies that make you want to laugh, cry, dance and fall in love all at the same time. And though I thoroughly enjoyed these experiences, they might be the very things that left me wanting more. The album is exactly what I expected. With similar strumming patterns and chord progressions, Babel feels like a continuation of Sigh No More, though there is variation in the track “Broken Crown” (which, for all of you who heard the Little Lion Man E.P. released in 2009, is “To Darkness” with a new chorus). Like “Dustbowl Dance” did on the debut album, “Broken Crown” strays from their usual formula of a touching, harmony-filled beginning that builds into an impassioned finale. It shows the darker side of the British quartet with pained shouts, cursing and intense instrumental breaks. But aside from this one exception, Babel remains well within the safety of the band’s already-established niche, afraid to stray too far from what has become internationally celebrated since 2009.
Though what I've said above might paint the L.P. as repetitive or dull, that is not the impression I want to leave you with. Some sure favorites on the band's sophomore album include “Whispers in the Dark,” “I Will Wait” (which has already been played to death on the radio), “Lovers' Eyes” and “Below My Feet.” The Sons even deliver a beautiful rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer.” Each of these tracks encompasses the always-satisfying sweetness and passion we were introduced to in Sigh No More. Every recording on Babel, particularly the concluding “Where Are You Now,” has a melody that will stick with you and lyrics that tempt you to quote them in social media. All that said, these past three years have been well worth the wait. So for all you Mumford & Sons lovers, prepare for a passionate reunion with the band you've been missing.