Sunday, 30 September 2012

Review: Mumford & Sons - Babel

 It's about time we examined this album at ROARF, now that officially no one will stop talking on and on about London born folk rockers Mumford & Sons. On the release of their 2010 debut album Sigh No More and the constant playing of singles like Little Lion Man and Winter Winds, I naturally assumed that this band would attract the attention of a middle aged audience for a solid couple of months and then fade away to never be recognised instead. A year and a decent amount of confused and spiteful remarks from my peers at school whenever I said I didn't like them later and it became obvious that this wasn't the case. No, with the country constantly on search for a band that plays it safe and writes mediocre songs, Marcus Mumford & Co effectively made it into the hearts of the nation and became the new torchbearers of blandness.

 So, with their position as a household name across the UK firmly established, the quartet return with their sophomore effort Babel with a UK tour on hand that involves playing at the Caird Hall in Dundee, to the delirious excitement to basically everyone I know from the city (Including  a very good friend of mine, so if you are reading this, please forgive me from everything you've read so far and are about to read.) And when they hit the road the new songs that they bring on board with them will be more songs that show their best efforts to pen a perfect song, that really do show their best efforts to be credible musicians with a unique flair from the rest of the uber mainstream alternative bunch but ultimately cannot avoid that central vanilla flavoring.

 In many ways, it's a sad fact that they cannot pass this undying sense of blandness because right from the crashing opening of the album's title track you can tell that this is loaded with ambition. Mumford wails "I cry Babel, Babel, look at me now, the walls of my town they come crumbling down!" in such a scathing tone that a sense of passion and belief is most definitely there in all he does and the attempt to make big poppy hooks armed only with traditional folk instruments and a sprinkling of bass guitar is done to the best of the band's ability, but the full impact that many of their alt rock contemporaries (No, not Two Door Cinema Club or The Vaccines) could make just isn't there.

 This is pretty much the ultimate feeling across the album, whether it's the more upbeat natures of the title track, the Little Lion Man clone that is lead single I Will Wait and the surprising amount of adrenaline packed riffs that come out on Hopeless Wanderer.

 It's also the same feeling that comes out in the album's more delicate moments. From the weeping balladry of Ghosts That We Used to Know and Broken Crown there's simply an array of overtly simple folk work that one just cannot find engaging in any form. It's a shame, it certainly feels like something you should like because lyrics like "So lead me back/ Turn me south from that place/ And close my eyes from my recent disgrace" can't have been the kind of lyrics to roll straight off the tongue. They quite clearly took a lot of thought and difficult passion. And to see Mumford's lyrics have such bland uninspired music accompanying it sounds like Mumford's received the raw end of some kind of deal.

 The final reflection one has upon listening to Babel is that I can't help but feel sorry for Mumford & Sons in some way. They try so hard to write the perfect song but if all the effort is put into the lyrics and second to none put into the music, then it's always going to come off as bland. And that's exactly the problem this album suffers. There's nothing engaging within the way the band plays because the constant burst of banjos that they've chosen to rely on isn't so much fun as it is repetitive. I know many people will make some kind of claim that it's actually all about the lyrics rather than the music and I will agree that the lyrics are highly engaging, but if it's all about the lyrics, maybe Marcus Mumford could look to poetry as an option. He'd gain much respect and school pupils could write essays on his work. But then, he wouldn't be selling out The Caird Hall with a job like that so, fair play to Mumford & Sons for being another one of those successful bands that make me look like a jealous loser when I write about how I dislike them.

Mumford & Sons' Babel is out now via Universal Island Records. The band will tour the UK from November-December.

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