“Cause I know my weakness, know my voice/and I’ll believe in grace and choice” hollers Marcus Mumford in Babel, the opening track on the new album of the same name. But this album is no statement of any Christian faith, Mumford asserts. Three years and many thousands of miles after the soaring success of their 2009 debut, Sigh No More, the second offering has become the speediest-selling album of 2012 so far. Babel is 15 tracks more of what these boys do best.
The collection of songs that make up Babel are a hearty testament to the band’s long and happy roadlife, as many of them have been trialled and evolved in a live performance context. For most of them this is a really, really good thing. For I Will Wait it is truly lamentable. Starting out life as a single B-side named Untitled, it was a quietly building song of understated beauty. The same cannot be said of its current, jolting, rowdy nature. The opposite effect has been had on Broken Crown, formerly known as the much grittier To Darkness. It’s an unusual practice for any band to air new material so regularly and for it to find itself newly-formed on a long-player. This process of evolution serves as a quiet retaliation against the accusations of sameness currently being thrown at Babel. Surely the most natural way to progress musically is to treat songs in this way. Among the new and relatively unheard songs, Reminder and Hopeless Wanderer prove that there is still room for brilliance within the familiar Mumford sound.
Many a happy hour has been spent discussing the theological implications of the Mumfords’ biblical-rich imagery and literary liftings, but any dreams of reaching a conclusive Mumfordian view of reality are once again dashed as the entire band repeatedly denies what their lyrics seem to clearly imply. For example: “I was told by Jesus all was well/so all must be well” from Below My Feet does not, apparently, mean that they have any faith in Jesus as Saviour and King. Like its predecessor, instances throughout the album that reference biblical themes are numerous, and are almost always shrouded by philosophical quandaries on the cruelties of life. Combine this with the band’s reluctance to clarify exactly what they’re singing about, and the resulting elusiveness is an authentic representation of the questioning of life and reality.