In an era where buzz bands too often fall out of fashion without much notice, the fabled “sophomore slump” is even more of an issue. After a band releases a stellar debut album to widespread critical and commercial acclaim, the big question on everyone’s lips is, “What’s next?” Artists must ask themselves the same question and ultimately decide the best way to proceed in what can easily be a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t type of situation. With their second record, Mumford & Sons adhered to the idea that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The title track on Babel starts the record with a fervent energy as Marcus Mumford shout-sings about tearing down the walls that keep us emotionally cut off from one another much like the language barrier that came between the would-be architects of the Biblical tower from which the album takes its name. “I Will Wait” is the obvious choice as the album’s first single, featuring all of the trademarks that earned the band instant fans with “Little Lion Man.” It’s a triumphant number with steady foot-stomped bass drum, blistering banjo, fiercely strummed acoustic guitar and the catchy refrain “I will wait, I will wait for you.”
“Broken Crown” is a particularly memorable song that starts with a steadily fingerpicked guitar, which is ultimately joined by a pounding beat, ominous piano, banjo and bass. The song continues to build to a furious climax with Mumford spitting a venom-soaked chorus. “I’ll crawl on my belly till the sun goes down,” he sings. “I’ll never wear your broken crown. I took the road, and I fucked it all away.” (No one sings “fuck” quite like Marcus Mumford.) Other stand-out moments include tracks like “Holland Road” and the beautiful, sparse ballad “Ghosts that We Knew.”
At its core, Babel feels very much like a continuation of Sigh No More. There isn’t much new here as far as the style and musical spectrum the band established on their debut is concerned, but the quartet is still doing what they do quite well. The songs are still powerful and moving, and hearing them incites the listener to stomp and yell along in passionate fits. While the band will undoubtedly be criticized for playing it safe on the new record, there is no denying the music is solid despite its familiarity. However, if you’re expecting Babel to break new musical ground or explore new territory, you might be disappointed.