On September 25th, Mumford and Sons released their long-awaited second studio album, Babel. This sequel to their debut album Sigh No More is a powerhouse of British folk rock and exactly what Mumford fans everywhere have been hoping for. Babel digs into spirituality and religion immediately in the title track and presses into themes of love, God and redemption throughout the rest of the album. Though Mumford and Sons say that Babel is not a declaration of Christian faith, they give extensive treatment to biblical themes and references.
Alongside biblical imagery and spiritual questioning, Babel explores the nuances of human love and emotion. Each song weaves from faith to doubt, love to rage, and back again. The repetition of themes provides an ultimate argument for faith in times of doubt and dedication despite fears. Babel demands understanding from the universe, and then accepts the inevitable lack of answer with hope. A prime example of this dichotomy is in the track “Ghosts That We Knew.” The song begs, “So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light/ ’cause oh that gave me such a fright, / but I will hold with all my might/ just promise me we’ll be alright.”
On a musical level, Babel is fun and intriguing. Mumford and Sons create distinctively folk music, but with a rock edge that charges their music with energy. Mumford uses a variety of string instruments, including the fiddle and the banjo, that fit into the traditional world of folk music to build their unique tone, but they couple the strings with notable percussion and keyboard to fill out a lush mixture of sounds. In addition to the wide array of instruments, Mumford and Sons support their lyrics with four part vocal harmony. Each member of the band is a skilled musician, and their combined talents make beautiful art.
If there is any way to critique Babel, it would have to be in its tendency to blend too softly from one song into the next. Though Mumford and Sons has a unique sound compared to other bands, their songs are each distinctively a Mumford and Sons song. Some of the transitions from one track to the next are not as strong as they could be. The shift from “Whispers in the Dark” to “I Will Wait” is almost unnoticeable.
However, this blending gives the album a sense of unity as a whole and camaraderie from song to song. Babel is not so much a collection of songs as one long musical thought train, constantly revisiting and reevaluating the same themes with growing knowledge and wisdom as the album progresses. Babel reaches into the center of humanity and asks “Why?” without assuming an answer.