A Vivoscene Feature Review by Megan McClean
Vivoscene rating 8.7
Aside from making it cool to wear waistcoats and tweed, Mumford & Sons gave the world 12 raw and beautiful tracks with Sigh No More. It is safe to say their follow-up album has some big cowboy-esque shoes to fill.
Babel has filled those shoes, but they don’t look so different from the banjo-loving, singalong-bearing feet that had occupied them before.
Babel is the obvious successor to Sigh No More. Mumford & Sons have barely been off tour since their debut’s release. Yet even with the worldwide fame and success, they still make it a priority to play in unusual settings. They played a small set to a crowd of fans at Sugar Beach in Toronto last month, and they’ve hosted tons of their own stopover “festivals” with Gentlemen of the Road. The boys ensure aspects of their career are people-powered and intimate, and this emphasis on live shows is a huge influence on their new album. A few of the tracks have been played at gigs for over a year and Babel has just whipped them into studio shape.
You can stream the entire album Babel here:
The album version of “Lover of the Light” lacks some of the ‘umph’ found on concert recordings (of which they are several tucked away on the internet) but that doesn’t detract from the surging anthem-like chorus. You just want to be surrounded by fellow fanatics yelling the lyrics to Mumford so you too, can holler out. “Whispers in the Dark,” another live favourite, is a string-powered number that begs you to break out into a full on barn dance, or at least tap your toes. You can hear echoes of Sigh No More, but with the added punch you would experience at a live show.
“Hopeless Wanderer” is a slower, more emotive number. It begins with pianos and acoustic guitars and finishes with a minute of epic Mumford-esque banjo=and-drum-driven wonder. “Below My Feet” is passionate and stirring, as is “Holland Road.”
“Ghosts That We Knew” continues on a more sombre and subdued track, centered around Marcus’s gritty voice and the strings that shadow him. “Broken Crown” is the darker number on this album as “Dustbowl Dance” was on SNM, full of forceful stomps, and Marcus’s frustrated swearing.
A highlight of the album has to be “I Will Wait,” a song full of fidgety banjo, charged harmonies, Marcus’s wearied vocals and a spirited chorus bursting with energy. Perhaps its brilliance lies with its ability to evoke the festival feeling, even if you are listening under your covers in your pj’s, trying to forget everything on your to-do list. You can vividly imagine singing-along with the band in a field of smiles. You can almost hear a live crowd bellowing back at them as they belt “I will wait, I will wait for you.”
How very Mumford. Which is just it, Mumford & Sons are one of the best at what they do. There are no surprises on Babel, no experimentation in spite of the fact that many of us were hoping for something a little more astonishing than their top-notch debut. Yet even though you may find yourself wanting someone to throw a spanner in the works, there’s still variety on this album. Babel still tickles you pink, with the ‘ohhhs’ and ‘ahhhs,’ with the fast-strums, the fast-fiddles, the compelling drums, so you can ignore their lack of nuance in favour of appreciating this band’s talent.
Achieving their rustic sound and honest songwriting isn’t anywhere as easy as Mumford make it look, and after a few listens of Babel, I guarantee we’ll all be singing along just as we did before.
Watch: Mumford and Sons “Babel”