24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
A Solid Follow-Up Effort With 'Room To Expand,' 3 ½ Stars,
This review is from: Babel (Audio CD)
Mumford & Sons 2012 effort Babel is easily one of the year's most anticipated efforts. A solid album overall, first time Mumford & Sons fan may enjoy Babel `better' than the most invested fans; more invested fans may pinpoint Babel as `formulaic' and `safe' rather than innovative. Arguments presented, Babel is sure-fire commercial hit that may not necessarily `progress' the band's artistry to `the next level' as expected. A superb group of musicians, as good as Babel is, it may be ever so slightly humbler than the hype.
Opener "Babel" is characterized by Mumford & Sons's `rhythmic machine' (acoustic guitar, banjo) and set in six-eight time. Ben Lovett's piano provides a chordal foundation, preempting contrast from Marcus Mumford's gritty vocals in favor of smoother, more melodic-centered vocals. "Babel" is ultimately well conceived; it ends with cliffhanging airy pad segueing into "Whispers in the Dark."
"Whispers in the Dark" possesses constant rhythmic motion throughout the verses, though it is softer allowing for Marcus's vocals to shine without strain. `Wall of sound' vocals aid in giving the record an inviting timbre, committed to folk. "Whispers" is less emotionally dynamic than "Babel" however.
"I Will Wait" receives valedictory honors easily. Highlights include supporting vocal harmonizations as well as sound vocal production overall. Songwriting is superb by all means. Add excellent pacing with an eventual fruition of production including piercing horns and "I Will Wait" seems a shoe-in for Grammy nominations (Record and/or Song of the Year).
"Holland Road" keeps Mumford & Sons on `autopilot.' The harmonic scheme is similar to "I Will Wait," while the pace is slower, a stark contrast. Mumford's vocals are emotional and sincere. Add a splash of brass and "Holland Road" is easily on the same plane as "Babel" or "I Will Wait."
"Ghost That We Knew" comes off shy of the level of the aforementioned "Babel," "I Will Wait" or "Holland Road," but delivers sound songwriting, most notably on the chorus: "So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light/Cause oh that gave me such a fright..." There is not too much to trivialize, save for some `predictability' (the unwinding ending) and length at nearly six minutes.
"Lover of the Light," takes a subtle approach prior to Mumford `letting it rip.' The melody highlights and is clearly discernible. "Lover of the Light" benefits its chorus, much like "Ghost..." did: "But love the one you hold/and I'll be your goal/to have and to hold/A lover of the light." The instrumental timbres within the production add to a list of positives. Even so, the cut is a bit lengthy.
"Lovers' Eyes" delivers a well-paced, well thought out cut. Vocal production is clear and Mumford's lead vocals sincere as he references religion, forgiveness, and love: "Cuz I feel numb beneath your tongue/your strength just makes me feel less strong/do not ask the price I pay for I must live with my quiet rage..." Mumford's overt outro seals the deal: "But I'll walk slow, I'll walk slow/take my hand, help me on my way..." As Al Green would put it, "Simply Beautiful."
"Reminder" gives the listener a simple, brief cut at 2:04. Not among the `elite,' it is a solid and lovely showing. "Hopeless Wanderer," lacks little `unpredictability' here, which hurts its cause. With the `deck of cards' revealed, this is a solid track where one desires a bit more `shake up' within the formula.
"Broken Crown" is the best of the quartet then closes Babel. Horns tighten up sound even if it follows a similar formula. "Broken Crown" lifts some "Little Lion Man" swag by dropping the f-bomb within the chorus if nothing else. "Below My Feet" delivers nothing new per say while closing cut "Not With Haste" is solid, though average compared against juggernaut "I Will Wait." The Deluxe edition tacks on three bonus cuts ("For Those Below," "The Boxer" featuring Jerry Douglas and Paul Simon, and "Where Are You Now"), bringing the total number of songs to fifteen.
Overall, Babel is a solid, enjoyable album. It could potentially land multiple Grammy nominations (just made the submission deadline), even as lofty as the coveted `Album of the Year.' That said, Babel is not necessarily `THE best album' I've personally reviewed this year, but contains the sensibilities and `cadences' of what the Recording Academy likes for sure. The biggest quibbles personally are that the band can/should take more risks instead of clinging to safety and `formulaic' means. The perceptible predictability could be easily eradicated with minor changes and `tricks.' Babel gets it done, but album no. 3 needs to `take the next step'; 3 ½ Stars.