While this is not exactly the "Black Sabbath meets
Nick Drake" that Marcus Mumford had promised
in his early press releases for his band's new release, it is
certainly a bit edgier and contains some distorted guitars. And
while some of the darker aspects that defined Sigh No More
are not as readily evident, this new record is anything but cheery.
And don't even think to yourself any unkind thoughts of the sophomore
slump; Babel is the farthest thing from that.
On Babel, the very first lyrics one hears uttered after
a trademark opening acoustic guitar line are "I know that
time has numbered my days and I'll go along with everything you
say." Not a cheery note on which to begin. Take note
the most startling thing for me on Sigh No More was that
something could become so popular with the masses when almost
every song was, in true folk fashion, about death or loss or the
feelings surrounding those events. Babel finds the band
extolling the virtues of loss once more, although taking a few
more opportunities to kindle the fires of love and hope, as well.
The music takes the same basic form as on the band's debut, but
with some added variety to instrumentation and much more electric
guitar. The songs remain incredibly well written and arranged,
moving from quiet segments to full-on throbbing rock movements
with nary a hitch. The band has somehow become more dynamic than
previously, however impossible that might seem, and the new record
demonstrates that fact ably. The music is mainly acoustic and
folk-based, filled with banjo, guitars, piano, bass, and the occasional
drum track. This new record doesn't sound far different from its
predecessor, but it does evolve the sound a bit more; things are
more confident, the songs bleeding sincerity and excellent musicianship,
evoking the ancient folk music while being recorded with a crispness
and beauty that displays the modern brilliance of sound.
While the lead single, "I Will Wait," is most directly
a lovers' song, almost every song here is
but not the straightforward
type that we are so accustomed to in popular music. Mumford always
has the ace card, that black card of death and heartbreak, in
his hand, only sometimes hiding it briefly behind his back before
revealing the duality of life and death in every piece of music
that he writes. But in all the love and hope and loss and pain
on Babel it becomes very clear that Mumford has a grand
appreciation of that duality of life as evidenced by the music
of old; that life is not life without death and love is not love
without loss and pain. Even standing firm in that knowledge, Mumford
never loses hope and these songs are filled with a life and fortitude
that will make them stick with the listener for years to come.
Secure in the reality that death awaits each of us, the anthemic
and epic songs that comprise Babel life the listener up
on angelic, holy wings, while relaying their message of the ultimate
end that does not necessarily mean defeat.
One gets the feeling that in all this darkness and light and
the inevitable human struggle to understand either and both, Marcus
Mumford finds answers in songs. The battle can be a long and painful
one, but life is worth the living, these songs seem to proclaim.
Mumford And Sons' take their songs and weave them in a
way that wraps the heart of the listener within their warm and
comforting embrace, blessing them with a solace not easily found
in the day-to-day living of this terrible and beautiful life.
That is what makes the music of Mumford so extraordinary. I pray
that it continues to do so for years and years to come. As the
wonderfully hopeful "Holland Road" proclaims, "If
you believe in me, I'll still believe."
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