Mumford & Sons Babel(Glassnote) Buy it from Insound
Three years ago, Mumford & Sons was thrust into the spotlight when their debut album, Sigh No More, began to sell millions of copies. If the concept of a multi-million selling album wasn’t odd enough, interest was furthered even more-so by the band’s revivalist Americana sound. While I didn’t particularly care much for their debut album, I decided to give Babel a chance in hopes that the band might surprise me. To say the least, they didn’t.
Babel is filled with an overabundance of disingenuous hoe-down music executed by lesser pop musicians dressed like mid-19th century farmhands. The music on this record mostly follows the same formula set on their über-selling debut, Sigh No More. Every over-enthused banjo romp is followed by the predictable pause for pseudo-emotionalism, and then once again crescendoed back into full hoe-down swing. There are moments where the band does try to incorporate some spontaneity into their work, but they mostly fail miserably. I’m assuming the ridiculous “whoop” in the middle of Babel and I Will Wait was such an attempt, but who knows, maybe it’ll make its way into the Mumford-formula. There’s also the incredibly muted and somewhat aborted fuzz-guitar tone on Below My Feet. This mostly seems like a futile attempt by the Mumfords to conceal any evidence that they are in fact not from the deep southern United States circa 1868.
I’ll admit, the songs on Babel wouldn’t be so painful if it weren’t for the god-awful “deep” lyricism of Marcus Mumford. It literally feels as if Mumford opened up to any page of a rhyming dictionary, picked out a word that could best match his rustic appearance, and based an entire song around it. This would actually seem like a pretty interesting process if he had writing skills beyond a 6th grade level. I mean seriously, what am I supposed to make of such brilliant poetry like, “Well I came home / Like a stone” or “I can take the road / And I can fuck it all the way?” These words are only worsened by Mumford’s overblown melodramatic vocal delivery. I’ve honestly never heard someone with such a gravelly voice sound so terribly wimpy and whiny at once. My best guess is that Mumford’s over-emoting is his instinctual way of compensating for a complete and utter lack of creativity, both in wordplay and musical ambition.
It’s truly perplexing how a band like Mumford & Sons is allowed all the creative freedom, production, and studio time the music industry can offer, and still come up with an album so sterile and devoid of any real emotion. Going into Babel, I didn’t really expect any sort of all-encompassing emotional odyssey, but I did anticipate some semblance of craftsmanship. Unfortunately, with every passing “yee-haw” and banjo roll, the potential for Babel to be anything but a shameless cash-in on old-timey nostalgia dissipated. As the record passed its final seconds and the sound from my speakers slowly began to silence, I was left with the single, cold realization that I was 47 minutes closer to my own inevitable demise.1 October, 2012 - 08:43 — Andrew Ciraulo