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Two years and eight months is an exceedingly long break between one's first and second album, particularly in this new-product-as-often-as-possible day and age. Of course, not every band's debut enjoys the improbable runaway success that Mumford & Sons' Sigh No More proved to have. It turned out that the world, and the US in particular, had a real taste for rollicking dobros, banjos, vigorously strummed guitars and Marcus Mumford gritty and plaintive voice. It may still be a limited bunch, the UK folkie crew, but in terms of audience, Mumford & Sons are clearly the standard bearers.
So, it would be foolish to mess too much with a good thing. After a good long time touring that debut, the band decamped to make Babel (pronounced in the UK, as you'll hear on the record, as "Bay-bel") over eighteen months in four studios. And despite that title, it's not necessarily a more clattering record, though the fellas waste no time getting to that strumming on an energetic opening title track. The banjo takes center stage on "Whispers in the Dark" and is prominent as well on "Broken Crown", a fierce track with a seething vocal.
Likewise, "Hopeless Wanderer" burst with passion, "Ghosts That We Knew" succeeds precisely because it dials that passion back to stripped down, quiet guitar, and "I Will Wait" dips a toe into Decemberists territory, though never as dark.
That song, like so many here, casts Marcus in the role of the spurned one, the put upon, the hurt, the devoted and even devout, as Jesus definitely has a presence. In "Holland Road" Marcus is "cut down", in "Broken Crown" he "won't speak to your sin", and in "Babel", he's "pressing his nose up to the glass around your heart". Ah well, even if he's been spurned in the romance department, career-wise he's doing just fine. Critically? Eh, kinda-sorta on Babel. Here's what some writers are saying:
Paste: With their second record, Mumford & Sons adhered to the idea that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Rolling Stone: Babel is full of all manner of religious shoptalk, with Biblical metaphors swirling like detritus in a Christopher Nolan film. Jesus is invoked above Edge-style guitar on "Below My Feet." On "Whispers in the Dark," Mumford declares an intention "to serve the Lord" over a Riverdance bounce. Compared to unfreaky-folk-revival peers like the Avett Brothers or the Low Anthem, Mumford & Sons really double down on the ol' time religion.
The Guardian: They are the epitome of a Marmite band: vilified for their privileged background and narrow vision of folk music; celebrated for their spit'n'sawdust energy and biblical framing of love. Babel will only entrench these positions: essentially it's a honing of their 2009 debut, Sigh No More, but with more of the ferocity you encounter in their live show.
To sum up: you likes album number one, you should be very pleased with album number two: Babel from Mumford & Sons.