Mumford and Sons - Babel
Audio CD, Rs. 180
When Mumford and Sons backed Bob Dylan at the 2011 Grammys, he told them to ‘keep that banjo rolling’. In Babel, the band’s second album, they obediently have. For fans, it’s a much-awaited fix of music reminiscing ‘Little Lion Man’, ‘Roll Away Your Stone’ and others from their debut album, Sigh No More. For first-timers, Babel introduces you to Mumford’s country/folk/bluegrass feel marked by four-part harmonies, finger-picked banjos, steady rhythms and quiet poetry. Without breaking much new ground, Babel’s 12 tracks explore the signature sound that catapulted Mumford from the secluded London folk scene to International stardom.
The first track ‘Babel’, opens with a banjo strumming against a marching bass drum. Marcus Mumford sings of pride and human insufficiency in verses over-layered by banjos, guitars and vocals. The babel appropriately quietens in the chorus. This soft-loud pattern is reversed in ‘Whispers In The Dark’ where a crowded chorus contrasts peaceful verses. The technique is repeated through the album. Many of Babel’s tracks were stage-tested through Mumford’s two-year world tour and the experience of carrying full stadiums through the shouts and silences of their music has left its mark in the studio as well.
The evidence is also visible in Mumford’s powerful sing-along choruses as in ‘I Will Wait’, ‘Lover Of The Light’ and ‘Below My Feet’. All three feature the perfect build-up. Whispered promises grow into screamed anthems backed by trumpets and ringing piano notes. All along, however, the band never compromises on its gorgeous quartet. The depth of male voices in harmony provides beautiful backing to Marcus’ grainy vocals, especially in the “I will wait” refrain. The album has enough goose bump moments in the choral ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’, particularly in ‘Holland Road’ and ‘Lovers’ Eyes’, where all instruments shut down and the guys create pure vocal bliss. Mumford plays on this forte in their acoustic songs ‘Ghosts That We Knew’ and ‘Reminder’. Both feature clean vocals and gentle finger picking.
Lyrically Babel revisits Sigh No More’s territory in its preoccupation with grace and human foibles, love, togetherness and trust. In Sigh No More, ‘Roll Away Your Stone’ said “It seems that all my bridges have been burned/ But, you say that's exactly how this grace thing works.” The title track in Babel says, “I know my weakness, know my voice/ and I believe in grace and choice.” Further down the album, ‘Broken Crown’ asks “In this twilight, how dare you speak of grace.” But the song concludes: “In this twilight, our choices seal our fate.” Mumford’s poetry retains its uncomplicated nature, standing primarily on staccato emotions, the gaps in between left for the listener to fill in.
Nine tracks down Babel comes ‘Hopeless Wanderer’. A string bass sets a double time foundation for some frenzied banjo strumming which peaks in the pre-chorus and goes crazy in the chorus. It’s a band more confident of its sound than ever before. The track is followed by ‘Broken Crown’ which takes ‘Hopeless Wanderer’s’ formula on a minor and reveals Mumford’s heavier side with vocal distortion.
The final track ‘Not With Haste’, is everything that Mumford stands for but sounds formulaic and weary coming at the album’s close. While Babel keeps one happily full of Mumford’s Billboard-certified appeal, one hopes the band doesn’t closet itself within those boundaries in the future.