Mumford and Sons meditate on love in hopeless places with Babel
About two years ago, a song devoid of any dance floor potential, took over radio stations. It was called “Little Lion Man” and it was performed by Mumford and Sons, a group of four British men who famously describe themselves as four sweaty fellows who like to play folk. They performed with Bob Dylan at the 2011 Grammys, and with that performance they exploded. Mumford and Sons then proceeded to leave their mark in the musical world with their debut album Sigh No More, which proved to be a sleeper-hit with over 2.5 million copies sold worldwide.
Now, Babel, released Sept. 24, scored the biggest debut of any album in 2012 so far, with more than 600,000 units sold according to Nielsen Soundscan ratings.
The best thing about Mumford and Sons’ new album is that it takes off where Sigh left off. There are no surprises; the band didn’t decide to go “experimental” like some other bands do. Like Sigh No More, Babel has banjos, violas, violins, drums, fiddles, trombones, guitars, and Markus Mumford’s recognizable raggedy voice.
The title track, “Babel,” starts the album with a punch; an acoustic guitar leads the way as if we were preparing to march to battle. “And I know that choices colour all I’ve done/But I’ll explain it all to the watchman’s son/I ain’t ever lived a year better spent in love,” Mumford sings, thus establishing the hero in virtually all of their songs — a rather undeserving fellow, a shy underdog, who despite all obstacles and sins he thinks he’s committed, manages to see all that is good in his life and win the day. He’s the ultimate seeker of love, as it is.
It is hard to pick which songs to analyze for this review, readers. Every track on Babel is a culmination; every song is better than the last one. “I Will Wait” is an ode to patient love, and probably the most emotional song on the record. “Ghosts That We Knew” is a soft ballad, with a restrained banjo in the background, which tells the tale of a disgraced man, who hopes that his love will save his soul. “So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light/Cause oh that gave me such a fright/But I will hold as long as you like/Just promise me we’ll be alright.”
“Lover of the Light” is the record’s happiest track. A playful piano and strings lead us into it softly, then drums come in, and the whole thing turns into an almost arena-like performance. What follows is “Lovers’ Eyes,” a song that wrestles with guilt and betrayal on the background of Ben Lovett’s low-key piano, group vocals, and some brass for good measure. “Should you shake my ash to the wind/ Lord, forget all of my sins/ Oh let me die where I lie/ Beneath the curse of my lover’s eyes.” Mumford and Sons are poets with instruments.
God, love, remorse. Those are the three themes that continue to intertwine in Mumford and Sons’ songs. “Broken Crown” is probably the angriest song on the record (which by the way is reinforced by a show-stopping use of the word “fucked,” much like “Little Lion Man” did). Mumford’s growl is at its best, tortured and enraged when he sings “Now in this twilight how dare you speak of grace,” and quietly hopeless and disappointed towards the end of the song, “But in this twilight our choices seal our fate.”
There are three additional tracks on the deluxe version of Babel, one of which is a brassy cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” with group vocals. Mumford and Sons take the song and make it their own. It’s definitely a live favourite, much like the band itself. It is refreshing to see that a band like Mumford and Sons can achieve arena-like catharsis so organically and easily. Because both their instruments and their lyrics have a heart.
By Radina Papukchieva