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Mumford & Sons, with all of their talent and popularity, are in essence bricklayers; they are builders of the bridge between the indie folk/rock scene and that of mainstream music. Though many may resent this and assert that indie music is only for a certain audience, it must be considered from a different point of view. Mumford & Sons have broadened the musical horizons of millions, and are continuing to do so with their new album, Babel. Forget the term sophomore slump, because Babel takes lyrical genius and musicality to the next level, encouraging more and more fans to cross this bridge back to the band’s indie roots every day.
The opening and title track, “Babel”, is a rousing invitation to shamelessly jam out. The acoustic guitar and furious banjo pick up the pace and welcome back Marcus Mumford’s gravely, accented voice. The song builds and diminishes several times, increasing the anticipation for each explosion of energy more each time. On the last lull in “Babel”, there is a seamless transition into the next song, “Whispers in the Dark”. This number follows the same pattern, but distinguishes itself lyrically by going from Babel’s self-reflective tone to focusing on a troubled relationship between two lovers and God.
Listeners familiar with the band’s first record, Sigh No More, will most likely recall that there are many religious themes throughout the majority of the songs. In Babel, audiences will find that the same religious tones are present here as well. And as per usual, the references do not overpower the meaning of the lyrics, but rather function as another layer or element with which emotion can be weaved. Interestingly enough, the same skill is used to sparingly drop one or two F-bombs that shock, but do not alienate the audience. Rather, they provide insight into an internal dialogue and evident emotional turmoil.
One cannot discuss Babel at this point in the game without mentioning “I Will Wait”, the third track and the first single from the album. The track exemplifies the more confident sound of Babel overall. Every introduction and fade of guitar, upright bass, drums, and even the mandolin are timed perfectly and have no problem working harder, faster, and on a grander scale. “I Will Wait” gives the audience a feeling that they are young and invincible, and that the music wants them to believe that about themselves.
A performance of “I Will Wait” from Red Rocks Amphitheatre was released as the official music video, where thousands of fans overlooked the stage and outward over the beautiful Colorado horizon. Unfortunately for many of us, it makes it feel as though we were left out of something monumental – but thankfully, Mumford & Sons are able to create such earnest music that listeners can feel the energy that all four use to dance, bob, sway, and even sweat. As for the quieter songs, like “Reminder”, no flashy tactics are used – and yet the listener can almost see each member close their eyes and feel them willing the meaning to be transferred from their mouths to our ears.
The language employed within this album is profound. One may expect to find such lyrical intensity in heavier rock or even metal music, but lines like those from “Broken Crown” smash through that barrier: “So crawl on my belly ‘til the sun goes down/ I will not wear your broken crown/ … Now in this twilight how dare you speak of grace.” Often the instrumental accompaniment dies down at these points, or at least calms so that the meaning of the words is the only thing that the listener can focus on.
A notable difference on this album is the presence of Mumford & Sons’ cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” on the deluxe edition. This is the only cover on Babel, and is an original and thoughtful take on the 1969 song from the Bridge Over Troubled Water album. The cover was originally released on Jerry Douglas’ Traveler album in June of this year, and proudly features Paul Simon himself. Despite Simon’s involvement, the final product turned out quite differently, and faithful to the Mumford & Sons sound. It is clear that covering such an iconic song by such respected artists in the folk genre was a monumental task, and that every attempt was made to do it justice while still being unique. Crafty elements include replacing the original’s use of the baritone saxophone with the occasional appearance of the electric guitar. And most importantly, instead of the use an orchestra to build up to the end, like the original, a chorus of voices ebbs and flows behind Marcus Mumford’s prominent voice to create the same emotion.
Accompanying “The Boxer” on the deluxe edition are the tracks “For Those Below” and “Where Are You Now”, rounding out the song count to fifteen – fifteen new bricks that help strengthen that bridge that links themselves, their roots, and today’s audiences.