When MUMFORD & SONS presented their fans a 36 second album trailer entitled “The Troubled Boys School” back in June, it gave them a rather bewildering than enlightening precognition about the so eagerly awaited successor of the grand debut Sigh No More. However, as time has passed by since then, anticipation has grown immensely and also us was excited for the final release of Babel, the sophomore LP by the British folk rockers around Marcus Mumford, due on September 21 in Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. So today’s the day, yay!
In late 2010, MUMFORD & SONS had already begun road-testing some new material that they had been working on. Thanks to some live footage, fans could already sneak a peek on some of these songs having been played live on numerous occasions like the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival 2011. The new stuff is definitely as overwhelming and capturing as their highly praised debut album material, which elevated the band to international fame – Sigh No More that had gone four times platinum in the UK, and twice platinum in the US. And as we have pointed out many times before: if something is already brilliant the way it is, why change it then? When 2011 took slowly shape, the band concentrated trying to work out what kind of record they were actually making. “I don’t think any of us had any idea then about what we were trying to do,” says Lovett, frankly. “We had a body of songs and we just really wanted to record them. And we thought that was all you needed. But we learned that wasn’t quite the case.” Fortunately, the vision for the album developed in passionate conviction and so its own identity got further shaped until the perfect finish. Babel’s identity Dwane (contrabass) describes as simply
“Very us. When we made the first album it was to be a snapshot of Mumford & Sons in 2009. This is exactly the same – but it’s us now, and there’s a lot of the live energy in there – that was very much what we were trying to capture. Creating the album over the course of a year, going into the studio then back out touring, then back into the studio … it’s almost as if the road has rubbed off on the album.”
I was relieved to discover that MUMFORD & SONS decided not to change their distinctive sound on Babel entirely, though they did admit that they purposely took their time in order to improve the characteristics that they had already developed. What an advanced way of thinking! Personally, I’ve extremely enjoyed their music from the very beginning on. Since that moment when I heard it for the first time on a late night road trip through the streets of Berlin with some girl friends of mine, their sound has never gotten old to me. Sigh No More is one of these albums that just won’t lose their captivating power, and so is Babel, the matured version of their lovely debut baby album. It feels like they’ve gained a lot more energy and creativeness, with a touch of sincerity and mellowness.
Whereas the debut album Sigh No More was characterized by variations of suggested and playfully engaging lighthearted folk and bluegrass instrumentation, its sequel Babel is more of a journey into the darkness of the soul. It eventually becomes obvious when neo-folk star Mumford sings of his demons in the bluesy Lover’s Eyes: “But Tellows ask the price I pay / I must live with my quiet rage / Tame the ghosts in my head / That run wild and wish me dead.”
The big issues can be found from the beginning of the album on – although they’re always only discretely featured. Even the rather simple Babel and Whispers In The Dark deal with the struggle between hope and faith, guilt and atonement, salvation and damnation. And no expression is more common on the album than the word ‘darkness’. Holland Road begins pleasantly dark and turns into a heartbreaking hymn, decorated with tender horns. The intimate Ghosts That We Knew bears a beautiful yearning that there must be some light lurking behind the dark, whereas in Hopeless Wanderer a gentle piano is eventually replaced by an angry guitar. And Broken Crown with its heavy minor chords actually feels like a folk version of a heavy metal song. “In this twilight, our choices seal our fate,” sings Mumford, and even the banjo seems to have lost all the enthusiasm, before being swallowed up by the darkness.
More than anything, there is a real a sense of completeness to Babel, a satisfying wholeness and a kind of musical and lyrical wealth.
“I think there’s more subject-matter on this album, and I think we’ve grown up a little bit. I feel like it’s more exposed, more naked. Ted always talked about wanting to make an album like a story. Not necessarily one that has a plot, but one that you can listen from top to bottom and it makes sense. I think that’s what we’ve tried to do, and what we’ve done.”
And indeed, that’s what they accomplished to achieve for the second time: an album you can listen to and sing along over and over again, and it’ll always keep this rich musical and lyrical soul.
MUMFORD & SONS
folk / rock
from London, UK