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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.

             

                                               snelson1@hillsdale.edu