Mumford And Sons ‘Babel’ – A QRE Guest Star Review

by Charles on October 5, 2012

Mumford And Sons - Babel“Da-da-dumdum, dumdum, dumdum, dummmmmmm!!”

That’s the opening twang of “Dueling Banjos”… in my head at least. You may have heard something completely different, but after you re-read it, NOT hearing a banjo will be an impossibility.

Another impossibility…not hearing at least one banjo song when you tune into pretty much any of the more recent trendsetting Americana stations on XM or Pandora.

It’s a fact! Banjers are everywhere! And not just on back-porches, pickin’ parlors or Bluegrass/Newgrass Festivals. Banjos are a staple of today’s Americana, Indie Rock and Folk scenes.

It’s not a new thing of course. The banjo has been used in ‘contemporary’ music since the early 1960s… but there seems to be renaissance happening. Here are some of the more recent culprits… The Avett Brothers, The Decemberists, Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses, Iron and Wine, Sufjan Stevens and the foremost purveyors of this movement, Mumford and Sons.

Given the recent local interest in the Mumford boys, and their affinity for the Appalachian (a-puh-”LATCH”-uhn) region of the country, it is their new album ‘Babel’ which will be discussed.

Mumford and Sons became known on the music scene in 2009 with their monstrously popular debut “Sigh No More.” The album garnered them critical acclaim, Grammy nods, soundtrack inclusions, a worldwide touring radius, and most importantly, respect and adoration from their musical peers. The album is chocked full o’ ballads. There are strong, emotional vocals and stingy, soulful lyrics all encompassed in gripping instrumentation. It’s a great debut.

The follow up…well, it’s a bit of a letdown.

‘Babel’ had such promise. The band was riding a huge wave of success, enrapturing new fans with amazing live shows and that certain buzz that one get’s from not quite being mainstream. Sure they have won all sorts of accolades, but for the most part, Mumford and Sons was still off of most people’s radars…and that is something that is still intriguing.

The environment for the follow up was perfect. The band was three years from their debut, well travelled and much more comfortable with the roles they have assumed. Marcus Mumford was firmly planted as the leader of the outfit, and his literary, approachable personae was something that fans instantly related to.

So what happened, you may ask? Well, for one, the approach feels tired, repetitive and, to be quite frank, boring. The beauty of the first album was the juxtaposition of the lyrics against the emotion of the music. It worked so very well. The songs became almost anthemic. Everything on this album, however, feels very linear and formulaic.

There are some shining moments…most notably are the lyrics. Marcus Mumford has come into his own… his words pouring out like a broken messiah, deep with passion and regret. The harmonies are tight, and the banjo is still very, very prominent. Unfortunately, save for the occasional spark, Babel sounds, to use the parlance from across the pond, ‘knackered.’ It feels like a pale imitation of what their debut proclaimed.

The good news…the banjo is still prevalent, the lyrics are still prolific and the band seems very confident and more mature. They seem less like minstrels and more like troubadours.

The bad news…like the tower of the same name, there is some confusion surrounding it, and the musical language that Mumford speaks on this album is somewhat lost in the translation.

It’s still better than anything Miley Cyrus though, so there is always that.

Rating: 6/10


Charles Fontaine is a former record store geek, former on-air radio personality, reluctant hero and a bacon enthusiast.

Mumford  And Sons ‘Babel’ is available on Spotify: Mumford & Sons – Babel

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