Babel not a whisper in the dark, but a shout
Mumford & Sons’ brillant second album, Babel, was released last week. The album doesn’t go anywhere adventurous or new — it stays in the same alternative rock/folk genre as Sigh No More, the band’s first album; still has “Country” Winston Marshall rocking the banjo; and still has Marcus Mumford growling and shouting out the group’s ballad-like lyrics.
The real difference between the two albums is the maturity of the music. Babel has more complex and layered instrumentals, and uses group vocals more effectively than Sigh No More. While both albums are fantastic, the band’s newest release shows off a cleaner, more organized sound.
Babel was written by young men, and although it can be enjoyed by people of all ages, it is an album about the issues in young people’s lives. Mumford & Sons sing about uncertainty and regret, love and longing. It’s the perfect album for young adults struggling to find their place in the world — in short, it’s written for college kids.
In the album’s first song, the title track “Babel,” Mumford sings, “ ’Cause I know my weakness, know my voice / And I’ll believe in grace and choice.” The song sets the tone and theme of the album: It’s all about understanding your own weaknesses and learning your voice. These ideas are essential during college and in the early stages of life, and, as the album acknowledges, there are no certainties in that journey.
Throughout the track, Mumford sings about the process of changing your core beliefs in young adulthood — a process that can strip us of our illusions and disguises. While this process can be unpleasant, Mumford reminds us that at least we’ll come out more honest on the other side.
“Babel” is not the only song with such complexity. True to Mumford & Sons form, each song is richly textured with emotion and meaning, along with some impressive banjo playing. “Ghosts That We Knew” toys with togetherness in the face of sadness, while “Lovers’ Eyes” describes the poignant regret of relationships after the love dries up. “Broken Crown” also focuses on regret, but of a much angrier nature — regret mixed with rage over past mistakes.
A trademark technique of Mumford & Sons is the juxtaposition of poignant, or perhaps nostalgic, lyrics and high-energy instrumentals. This technique appears in many of Babel’s songs. The contrast is jarring, but in a good way: It generates toe-tapping, catchy music with a subtler meaning underneath.
Touching on a wide range of emotions, from joy and triumph to sorrow, rage, and heartbreak, Babel is a phenomenal album. It proves not only that Mumford & Sons are still going strong, but also that the band is getting better all the time.