Mumford and Sons strikes gold again
Published: Sunday, September 30, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
Artist: Mumford and Sons
Label: Gentlemen of the Road / Glassnote
Release Date: Sept. 25
Marcus Mumford doesn’t mirror Justin Bieber. Mumford prefers flannel and a dirt ’stache to leather and diamond earrings. His rosy cheeks, unkempt hair and full-bodied figure don’t fit the pop persona. Nor does his gritty voice or his band’s rugged-but-soulful style.
Bieber can’t keep up.
Mumford’s band, Mumford and Sons, released its second album, Babel, last week. The record is on pace to sell over 600,000 copies by Tuesday – annihilating the previous high for first-week record sales in 2012, the 347,000 mark set by Bieber’s Believe.
After 2009 mega-hit Sigh No More snatched hipsters by the heart, Babel presents Mumford and Sons’ calling cards – grapples of love, spirituality and mortality – woven together seamlessly between tracks.
Babel will not be as well received if listened to as 15 separate tracks; rather, it is a 15-song epic, a cheery but up-and-down tale of two lovers.
The album’s self-titled opening track establishes its optimistic, folk presence. The folk twang continues as Babel melts gently into its second track, “Whispers In The Dark,” in which Mumford hints at the self-loathing nature he is known for.
This song marks the first of many biblical references, which have been well documented throughout Mumford and Sons’ career, as Mumford grew up in a devout Christian household.
While his parents’ religion does not denote his own and Mumford told The Big Issue he does not “feel evangelical about anything, really, other than music,” he makes it clear in Babel that he is enduring a spiritual tug of war.
“I’m a cad but I’m not a fraud/I set out to serve the Lord,” Mumford sings. “And this cup of yours tastes holy/But a brush with the devil can clear your mind/Strengthen your spine.”
The band displays its propensity for acoustics in the third track, “I Will Wait,” as the opening guitar riff harkens comparisons to Of Monsters And Men’s hit “Little Talks.” Later in the track, Mumford vows to “use [his] head alongside [his] heart,” but some critics bemoan a severe lack of creativity in his lyrics.
Simplicity, however, is what makes his delivery powerful and memorable. William Shakespeare was known for his adroit phrasing with small words. While Mumford is far from Shakespeare, his style can be considered along the same lines.
“Ghosts That We Knew,” a track that begins a cappella with slower and darker melody, offers a welcome change of pace from the consistent sunny optimism of Babel’s first four songs.
The sixth and seventh songs in the album, “Lover of the Light” and “Lover’s Eyes,” are the best in the arsenal. “Lover of the Light” works as a catchy plea to “love the one you hold” and stay positive, while “Lover’s Eyes” is a pensive, thought-provoking ballad.
“I must live with my quiet rage/Tame the ghosts in my head,” Mumford sings. “Lord, forget all of my sins/Oh, let me die where I lie/There’s no drink nor drug I tried/To rid the curse of these lover’s eyes.”
Some of Babel’s songs, like “Hopeless Wanderer,” feel like an overdose of live shows aiming to start a dance party. While the track has arguably the strongest musical sequence in this album and the other upbeat songs are enjoyable easy-listens, their indistinguishable repetition is this album’s only downfall.
The less upbeat songs may not be Babel’s best-selling tracks, but they are the glue that makes this work of art exceptional – far surpassing the happy-go-lucky efforts. In “Below My Feet” and “Not With Haste,” listeners are given a view into Mumford’s private warfare – two consecutive songs in which he begs for life and curses his “fickle flesh.”
The regular edition of Babel comes with just 12 tracks, but the three bonus tracks in the deluxe version, including a mellow tune featuring Jerry Douglas and Paul Simon, are worth the extra $3.
While it will sell better and it is a superb sophomore effort, Babel is not as strong or deep as Sigh No More. Nevertheless, Babel may end up dominating the Grammys in February. If nothing else, it is light years ahead of Believe.