Insanity, according to Albert Einstein, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This September, Marcus Mumford and co. added another definition to the word; doing the same thing years later and expecting the same result. After the wildfire success of their debut album, Sigh No More, they finally released their second album, called Sigh No More. Oh wait, this one’s called Babel. Sorry for the confusion; it’s just that this new record sounds most suspiciously like the first. In fact, if you take Sigh No More, strip it of its moments, have it eaten whole and defecated by Chris Martin, you get Babel.
This new effort of some merit and much disappointment comes with the whole Mumford indie-folk setup; acoustic guitars, mandolins, banjos, keys, fiddles, accordions, the whole deal. It shows some decent effort put in towards making you take notice. It’s not halfhearted, just mediocre. The opener, the title track, starts off with great and fire with its peaks and valleys and robust, full orchestration. However, it bears no warning that the same song structure, the same instrumentation, and the same theme of romantic unrest will continue for literally the entire length of the album. Songs like ‘Hopeless Wanderer’, ‘I Will Wait’, and ‘Below my Feet’ are entirely predictable and, quite frankly, boring. The quiet-loud-quiet dynamic is painfully overused, as is the overcheesed banjo. Babel features many entirely forgettable, over-orchestrated instrumental passages that ramble on and on without ever getting good. Add to that the fact that a bunch of grown men singing La-La-La in chorus was never and still isn’t that great an idea, and the record is hanging from a cliff. For a band with such an unplugged setup, the album is grossly overproduced. The pristine, layered production is at odds with the earthy folk the band aims for. Going for the “big” sound doesn’t always pay either.
Some songs, such as the title track and the Joan Baez-esque ‘Reminder’ do stand out amongst plenty of fillers. Occasionally, the right things are accentuated and there is some interesting imagery displaying Mumford’s songwriting prowess. However, rare moments of merit cannot save this exercise in repetition. The record is its predecessor on a bad day. It may even leave the dreamy-eyed girl who so loved ‘Timshel’ and ‘Little Lion Man’ with a frown. Mumford can do better.