London’s folk-rock crew Mumford and Sons, led by front man Marcus Mumford, released their sophomore album Babel in late September. As the anticipated follow-up to the highly successful Sigh No More (2010), Babel smoothly sustains the musical aspects and vague spiritual themes of the band’s first release.
Frantic strumming, banjo riffs, frequent tempo changes and aggressive vocals continue to characterize Mumford’s sound, but a newness in the fluid transitions between songs, both musically and lyrically brings a new polish in Babel.
Each song tells a story, dramatically building emotion with lyrics and instrumentation, beginning with the album’s title track that references the Biblical story in Genesis 11. This allusion aptly reflects the general theme of the album — the longing for renewal and restoration in the face of confusion, and even sin — though as Marcus Mumford claims, “Spirituality is the word we engage with…We’re fans of faith, not religion” (NME).
The song “Ghosts That We Knew” shows this theme in the chorus: “So give me hope in the darkness/that I will see the light,” and as the bridge of “Broken Crown” asks, “But oh my heart was flawed, I knew my weakness/So hold my hand, consign me not to darkness.” The album continues Mumford’s unique paradox of singing primarily about sin, darkness, and hope for forgiveness and redemption while managing to inspire a rousing, worshipful experience. While Mumford and Sons do not proclaim themselves Christians and state that Babel is “not a statement of faith” (NME), they skillfully write lyrics and soaring melodies that align with Christian struggles and truths.
Babel’s nebulous lyrics identify with human fallenness and hopefully seek for an answer; their goal is to inspire questions in the listener (NME). As “Lover’s Eyes” pleads, “Lord forget all of my sins…Help me on my way.” Babel’s lyrics do seem to be pointing to the Lord for this answer, though this specificity seems not to be their intention.
As social media sites, college peers, and my own father have clearly identified, Babel’s biggest problem is that it sounds unnervingly similar to Sigh No More, and within this problem, every song sounds about the same. The first time through it, I found myself wondering if I was actually hearing a new album or just listening to a song that I had missed during the first album. The more times through the album though, the lyrics of each individual song prove thought-provoking, and I enjoyed belting out my lungs to the music. My personal favorite part of the album was their cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer.”
Babel gets a thumbs up, though a hesitant one.