Album review: Mumford & Sons go forward into 'Babel'
• Mumford & Sons, Babel (Glassnote) – More of the same, you might complain. Right, and Green Day isn’t gonna make a country album anytime soon, either, no matter what substance Billie Joe is or is not abusing.
What else should Mumford 2.0 be but more of that same cheerily cathartic nü-folk-rock so many of us flocked to like finding some early Dylan begging to be spun in a jukebox full of Foster the People and Neon Trees? Those of us for whom M&S has never been a novelty, just a much-needed metal-paddle jolt of traditionalism to popular music's heart ... we may have realized going into this sophomore batch that at least a third of its dozen tracks were developed at shows dating back to their debut at the Troubadour almost three years ago. Why would anyone anticipate bold experiments?
Of those tunes that have become familiar to these dandies’ devoted adherents, all are more richly detailed in their studio versions. “Lover of the Light” churns from a plodding refrain to a positively ebullient climax, with Marcus Mumford wailing so mightily, there are times he leaves Dave Matthews looking like a mewling Muppet. That same gritted-then-hollered intensity is poured into “Lover’s Eyes,” but what lifts that one to a fulfilling climax, as is the case so often on the Mumfords' excursion through Babel, are robust horns packing mournful symphonic power.
That same grand air continues on “Broken Crown” late in the playback ... by which point the dramatic swells and overcome passages start to turn rote. But an over-reliance on them is entirely in keeping with the ambition of this complementary second helping. As predictably satisfying a follow-up to a buzzed-about breakthrough as Vampire Weekend’s Contra was, Babel is exactly what fans should expect: not a radicalization but a baby-stepping refinement of what made the U.K. quartet such a soul-nourishing sensation in the first place.