The challenge for Mumford & Sons with its all-important follow-up album, “Babel,” is to replicate its previous success while expanding its sound and improving its songwriting.
Clearly, resting on its laurels after selling 2 million albums in the U.S. and another million in the U.K. was an option. Fortunately, it has taken the latter path. At times, it is still annoyingly bombastic for an ostensible folk band, but “Babel” shows a lot of development stylistically.
The album opens with the title track, which features Marcus Mumford singing as loudly as possible while the band chugs away in a minor key. It’s exactly what you’d expect, but instead of starting quiet and going loud, the band stops dead a couple of times mid-song and lets Mumford get quiet. It’s not a big departure, but for Mumford & Sons, this counts as progress.
Second song “Whispers in the Dark” is another up-tempo stomper with Mumford obsessively thumping his kick drum on every beat. But he backs off on the usually overpowering guitar strumming here and lets Marshall’s banjo-picking dominate the music.
Mumford & Sons seems to have figured out that there is more than one way to put together a song. This tweaking of the songwriting technique gives this album a decent flow, and makes it a much smoother listen than “Sigh No More.”
While there are some real gems here, occasionally the songs tend to fade into generic background folk music. “Babel” isn’t a great album, but it is a good one.