Faceoff: Album Review - Babel

Mumford & Sons are literally inescapable. Since going from unknowns to pop stars in 2009, the British foursome now chases you from coffee shop to radio station to Spotify playlist like some kind of deranged, magically teleporting serial killer. If only anything on Babel, the group’s brand-new album, were remotely as interesting as that description.

Simply put, the album is incredibly boring, far more than something as highly expected as this should be. First single “I Will Wait” provides a perfect example of this: On top of a pounding 4/4 kick-drum beat, banjo arpeggios and guitar strums, nothing else really happens. The song moves at roughly the same speed for its entire length, before ending with an uplifting horn coda.

This would be well and good, except that pretty much every other track on the entire album follows this exact same pattern: horn section, plodding tempo and all. Even with the track names being essentially the word-for-word chorus of every song, it is near impossible to tell the songs apart, much less remember them.

While debut Sigh No More was hardly a masterpiece, it was at least full of catchy melodies and tense pop songs. Babel, on the other hand, compensates for anonymous songs by throwing layers upon-layers of sound at each song. This results in something of a maximalist paradox: A lot is going on, but nothing really happens.

Compounding this all is the simple fact that singer-guitarist Marcus Mumford happens to be one of the worst lyricists in pop rock today. He crams as many meaningless, impossibly vague statements as he can into every single song.

While obviously meant to be sung to crowds of thousands, his lyrics, as Nitsuh Abebe wrote in New York Magazine, are “inspiring on roughly the same level that your bank would like to inspire you to enjoy the freedom of no-fee checking.”

Sometimes this lack of variety can bury actually good songs. Near the end of the album, “Broken Crown” and “Below My Feet” prove that this band can write great tunes if they want to. But what works on these songs – shouted chorus and powerful horn section –repeats on every other, rendering them faceless. It’s a shame.

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