The Washington Post

Mumford & Sons, ‘Babel’ album review

London’s multimillion-selling troubadours Mumford & Sons are perhaps best known in the States for their appearance alongside Bob Dylan at the 2011 Grammy Awards, suggesting a tenuous connection with the Man himself. In reality, they hark back to a strain of commercial folk music that predates Dylan’s anarchic reinvention of the genre. Mumford & Sons’ true progenitors are bands such as the Kingston Trio and New Christy Minstrels, whose wax museum regurgitations of old forms eschewed the more challenging and frightening elements of their chosen idiom. Like those previous acts, Mumford & Sons seem determined to streamline folk traditions into a highly palatable and unthreatening wash, wherein upscale audiences who enjoy the “authentic” feel of pickin’ and grinnin’ are spared the levels of existential hell manifested by, say, Lead Belly.

On their new record, “Babel,” Mumford & Sons sound highly assured in their approach, a quality that would normally serve a band in good stead, but here, such conviction feels misguided. Much like his peers in Dawes or the Lumineers, frontman Marcus Mumford experiences subtlety as an allergy and expresses his every heartfelt whim with a deep-throated evangelism that belies the extraordinary banality of his lyrics. On the opening title track, Mumford emotes, “Press my nose up to the glass around your heart,” which is both nonsensical and a little creepy. On balance, “Babel” is tedious and repetitive in the extreme, resolving time and again to the same acoustic guitar, banjo and drums-driven buildup that feels ineffectual either as folk music or indie rock. Almost without exception (the brief “Reminder” at least temporarily tamps down the melodrama), this is inessential music best suited for the culminating scenes of rom-coms or the occasional cellphone commercial.

Elizabeth Nelson

Recommended Tracks

“Reminder”

Cover art for Mumford & Sons’ album “Babel.” (Courtesy of Glassnote Records)

Comments
Show Comments
Most Read

lifestyle

style

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.