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Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

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Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

New Mumford & Sons release comes up short

The Associated Press

This Sept. 5, 2012 photo shows the band Mumford and Sons with Emmylou Harris, pioneers of the folk-rock revival movement, on an episode of “CMT Crossroads” on Thursday, Sept. 27. 

The last three years have been very kind to the West London folk scene, specifically to its flagship ensemble Mumford & Sons. The Celtic-inspired quintet scored a major label record deal within two years of its formation. The group released the surprise debut hit Sigh No More in late 2009. The album sold millions of copies on both sides of the Atlantic, spawning four singles and making the group a major concert draw.

With all of its success, one would think the band could afford to lighten up and expand its sound a little. Instead, the band retreads the exact same weary course with its follow-up album Babel. Employing the same producer, Markus Dravs (Coldplay, Arcade Fire), the album is a carbon copy of Sigh No More. Its 12 insistent, lamenting tracks are identical in tone and presentation to the group’s older album.

Once again the band decides to take on the big subjects, with epic, all-knowing statements and biblical imagery scattered throughout the album. The band’s ambition is commendable, but before long, its ostensible goodwill slips into the realm of self-aggrandizement.

Songs like the opening title track and lead single “I Will Wait” ooze with melodrama, and occasional borderline-idiotic lyrics such as “Your strength just makes me feel less strong” are launched out over chugging acoustic instrumentation in Marcus Mumford’s anguished rasp. Such histrionics make Babel an exhausting experience, causing the listener to wish the band would just spend a nice day at the park.

Some songs attempt to break out of the wannabe-anthemic mold. “Ghosts That We Knew” is a pleasant song with a lilting intro and tender lyrics, but the effect is muted when all of the songs on the album are so emotionally charged. Unfortunately for Mumford & Sons, things get worse before they get any better, reaching a lyrical nadir at “Broken Crown.” “So crawl on my belly till the sun goes down / I’ll never wear your broken crown / I can take the road and I can fuck it all away / But in this twilight our choices seal our fate.”

Where acoustic-based contemporaries such as Fleet Foxes and the Decemberists take a sensitive, bucolic approach to English-inspired folk-rock, Mumford & Sons seem to come straight from the gutter. This could have been a good thing if the band didn’t try so hard to produce the same exact formula with every song.

The album’s final track, “Not with Haste,” tries its best to lighten the mood as the album comes to a close but gets lost in the album’s overarching malaise. An expanded edition of the album contains three bonus tracks, including a cover of Paul Simon’s “The Boxer,” which features a guest appearance by the master singer-songwriter himself.

Each of the bonus selections is better than anything on the actual album, showing that the band is capable of delivering quality music. Even so, the additional material cannot justify the $17.99 list price of the CD.

Nevertheless, Babel will probably sell a zillion albums thanks to the Clear Channel powers that be, while admirable new releases by bands such as The Soft Pack and Grizzly Bear languish on record store shelves. So it goes.

Hopefully for subsequent albums Mumford & Sons will try to expand their musical vocabulary.

Printed on Thursday, September 27, 2012 as: New Mumford & Sons album comes up short

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New Mumford & Sons release comes up short