Mumford & Sons has been tight-lipped while working on this record, stressing an “evolution, not a revolution” to NME earlier this year after some reports suggested they were making a fusion of folk and heavy metal. What they’ve delivered in Babel is part two of Sigh, with more irresistible pop hooks, lofty lyrics, and the dynamic interplay between loud and soft that pushed the group into the international spotlight.
The pressure on Marcus Mumford to produce top-notch material for Babel must have been daunting. He has responded by going with what he knows: the same rhythm guitar pattern over and over and a songwriting formula that is almost computer-programmable. As on Sigh, the challenge for producer Markus Dravs lies in capturing a primarily live band’s sound in the studio. He’s succeeded; there’s hardly a second on Babel that doesn’t feel sonically impeccable.
If the band and Dravs are masters at crosschecking every aspect of the recording process, Mumford’s lyrics don’t seem to bear the same scrutiny. On Babel, he’s often playing the part of the spurned lover who exacts revenge through hopeful poetics. As a lyricist, Mumford has a proclivity for ruining his best stuff with his worst. The simple, winsome chorus of “Lover Of The Light” follows a pair of grammatically challenged and obtuse lines in the verse: “There’ll be no value when the strength of walls that I have grown / They’ll be no comfort in the shade of the shadows thrown.” There are images of walls and towers in nearly every song, but they don’t serve as a unifying theme—a missed opportunity for an album named after a famous tower. Instead, the images seem like go-to words in a lazy songwriter’s starved lexicon. It’s not hard to get the feeling that Marcus Mumford has spent his whole life reading the language of the Bible without stopping to think for a second about what any of it means.