Mumford & Sons’ highly anticipated new album “Babel” is simply “Sigh No More Part 2.” The men, who dress like modern interpretations of characters from Oliver Twist, found a music formula that sells, and they have stuck to it.
The sound of “Babel” remains squarely within the overstated, folk-rock-pop style established in “Sigh No More.” From the first track, frantic, unvarying banjo plucking assaults the listener. Almost every song features the same up-tempo modulation and raucous hollering we’ve grown to expect. Often, Marcus Mumford’s vocals sound like hyper-emotional, self-righteous battle cries.
And this is the overarching problem with the British band: their music remains within its formulaic, safe style. It is overwrought earcandy that only offers a cathartic listening experience.
The band stands in their tower and attempts to impart the light of their experiences as if they are the sole possessors of God’s glorious truth.
Their songs attempt emotional and intellectual profundity but merely offer strung together cliches –– the lead singer is a hopeless wanderer who wrestled with his youth once upon a time, women have stone-like hearts, and someone (we aren’t sure who) has eyes like marbles.
Because Mumford & Sons’ songs are so big and general about such big and general problems, listeners can project their own narratives onto the songs.
Rather than challenging perspectives on God, love, and what it means to be human, “Babel” encourages asinine introspection. Like wildly applicable fortune cookies, lines from the album indulge our desires for self-awareness without providing anything real.
In addition, the album minimizes the conflict between darkness and redemption — “A brush with the devil can clear your mind and strengthen your spine” and “I was under your spell when I was told by Jesus all was well” — by simplifying it to unfounded universals. There is no Job-like quality of humility in these reflections and no mystery in their conclusions. Their pain is unrealistically straightforward and easily redeemed through victorious crescendos.
Like the tower in Biblical narrative, “Babel” reaches to the heavens. But like the tower, the album only succeeds at an illusion of grandeur.