Mumford & Sons – Babel

It’s been about two months since I’ve written a music review.  It isn’t that I haven’t been picking up new music, it’s just that I haven’t been inspired to write about any of the albums I’ve been listening to.  I may try to sneak in a general summary of the albums I’ve had on rotation lately next week, but I finally found some inspiration in the new Mumford album.

It’s no secret I enjoyed the last album.  I listened to it fairly regularly up until I got tired of hearing it consistently on the radio.  I even saw them live at one of the most frightening concert going experiences I’ve ever had.  This includes being punched in the head at a metal show in college.  Whatever the case may be, I have enjoyed their emotional brand of banjo laden folk rock.  Perhaps that is why I’m surprised at how conflicted I am over the new album and any subsequent albums moving forward.

Generally speaking the last album was met with praise.  It seemed like Mumford was filling a void in the music realm that many thought was lacking.  Sure there were other acts out there more deserving of the honor of being the pioneers of the folk genre, but they were the band that many locked onto.  So, when they went back to the studio to work on their next album, did they think of how they could push the limits and reinvent the genre?  No, they went out and produced an album that the masses would buy.  Not every band is looking be Radiohead or produce St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Some bands are just happy to have fans and keep playing the style of music that got them famous.  There has to be a reason Nickleback is one of the biggest bands on the planet right now.  Regardless, they stuck to their formula.

If you’ve never noticed the Mumford formula you need to put on one of their songs right now.  Most likely it started kind of slow, there are a few that get that banjo going right away, but most likely it started slow.  Some where along the way, most likely before the chorus, there was a big build up of the tempo of the music, the introduction of the banjo, and the song took off at a frantic pace. If the song started slow you thought, “Wow, that was a big emotional build-up.  I feel so alive!”  However, they aren’t done with the emotional roller coaster that is their music just yet.  Somewhere half way through the song, they get quiet again and reenact their previous build-up.  The song may end upbeat or quiet.  Either way, they have taken you through a range of emotions.  The problem there is if you notice the pattern.  Instead of enjoying the ride, you feel the monotony of the pattern.

Sorry I didn’t mean to get off on a rant here.  I did actually intend to review the new album.

The album starts off with the title track off the album: “Babel”.  Although it is certainly a prototypical Mumford song that follows the exact formula I just spoke of, I do like the ferocious beginning.  Perhaps it was taking a break from Mumford for a while, but I found it to be a really fun song.  I do laugh when I hear lead singer Marcus Mumford pronounce babel like table.  I’m not sure if that is a foreigner thing or not.  The next two songs certainly keep moving right on along with the typical Mumford formula. The banjo line in “Whispers in the Dark” makes me smile for sure.  I like the harmonizing and quick pace of the song, but the banjo makes me think the banjo player should be jumping around barefoot with his overalls on at a hoedown somewhere.  Of course, “I Will Wait” has a pretty similar effect with the banjo as well.

“Ghosts That We Knew” is probably the first song on the album that has me thinking Mumford can vary it up slightly.  The song starts off low-key and pretty much stays there most of the time.  It has a much more quiet and powerful feel to it.  I think “Lover of the Light” is probably my favorite song on the album.  The tone and tempo seem different from some of the other things Mumford has tried.  I actually listened to this album while running the other day and this song reminded me of some of the material on the “Into the Wild” Soundtrack.  It has that exploration and west ward expansion feel.  I do get a little disappointed by Mumford throwing their formula into it, but I still really like it.

I think “Hopeless Wanderer” may be the most frustrating song on the album for me.  I want to like it; however, it feels like they try to employ the formula over and over and over again in it.  I do like that is has three different tempos to it, but it seems somewhat disjointed in how they set them up.  It starts quiet, gets somewhat frantic and emotional, breaks into a steady strumming of melody, drops back into a harmonized quiet part, and then breaks into the real breakdown with the inclusion of the quick banjo line.  I can’t help but feel like this song was a cut and paste job.  They wanted to do their formula, but they liked two different emotional pick up parts, so they just used both.

I understand I sound like I’m somewhat bashing Mumford and their ways, and I probably am to some degrees.  I think they produced an album with a lot of good songs on it, I just wish it wasn’t so predictable.  If you think I’m making this up, put on the first three songs on the album.  Each one of them has a part in the middle where they get quiet just to bring it back up to the emotional breakdown.  If you’re like me, you may actual become frustrated when you come to realize that every song follows a similar pattern.

I’m sure I’ll continue listening to this album for a few weeks.  I may even listen to a few songs longer than that, but I just don’t think Mumford can go out there and assume their fans won’t notice this pattern in each of their songs.

Teacher Grade: C (because I’m still a sucker for the pattern at times)

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1 Comment

  1. I haven’t had a chance to listen to the entire album. But I see your point. Good review.


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