Editor’s note: I’m writing this as a response of sorts to Jake’s review, meaning that I’ve already read his and thought I’d add my own for posterity’s sake.
“Well, I know that time has numbered my days, so I’ll go along with everything you say” is the way that Mumford and Sons begins their sophomore album, “Babel”, the much anticipated follow up to their incredible 2010 debut, “Sigh No More”. This album, in general, and this line, in particular, show that the stakes have been raised for Marcus Mumford and friends, both from the outside and from within. Their could hardly be more pressure on a band than following up a stellar debut album and Grammy nominations galore. Though surpassing the success of the debut is not unheard of (see Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver), it’s very rare. Beginning with the line above and ending with “Do not let my fickle flesh go to waste,/ as it keeps my heart and soul in its place,/ and I will love with urgency, but not with haste” shows that these guys understood the challenge they had created for themselves and decided they didn’t care, they’d just do what they knew how to do and do it better.
“Babel” is, in every way, an improvement on “Sigh No More”. It may not be as novel or surprising or win as many awards. But we’ve quickly forgotten that this band has become popular and successful based on 12 songs from a debut album. These 12 new songs show that Mumford and Sons knows what they are good at, making incredible British folk music, and have found ways to make it more unique and better than before. Whether that’s using distortion on banjos or recording studio versions of songs live, they’ve done it and they’ve done it well.
If you were a fan of the banjo in the original album, you’ll be blown away with this album, which includes full blown banjo on nearly every song. It’s almost as if the label was unsure how the first record’s sound would be received, and once they saw it was received so well, they said, “Guys, go nuts!” The first track and title track is an upbeat folk rock song that uses an oft overlooked biblical metaphor to talk about the leveling of the playing field. It almost sounds like a song the Occupy movement could really use to get their message across. “You build your walls and I’ll play my bloody part,/ to tear, tear them down.” The first single, “I Will Wait”, is another banjo driven ballad, this time a love song of sorts.
But the band also shows their prowess by absolutely nailing 3 slower songs. “Lover of the Light” sounds a lot like a banjo infused DMB song, singing “Love the one you hold,/ and that will be your gold,/ to have and to hold, a lover of the light.” The last two songs on the album are two of the best, most honest songs you’ll hear. “Below My Feet” begins with piano and picking and keeps that vibe throughout. Its a song about living in the present. “Keep the earth below my feet,/ For all my sweat, my blood runs weak,/ Let me learn from where I have been,/ Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn.” The honesty in these lyrics and the personality and message really sets this album apart from the last one. Take “Not With Haste”, the last track, as an example of an honesty that maybe felt lacking in the first album. “This ain’t no sham, I am who I am.”
This album is every bit the follow up we hoped it would be. It’s a near flawless album that should be in the ears and minds of every fan of music by the end of the day today. If you haven’t been marking the release of this album, do yourself a favor and go get “Babel”, I promise you won’t regret it.