Since Mumford & Sons emerged three years ago, naysayers have found plenty of reasons to despise the folk-rock quartet. And while most of their complaints involve immature qualms about the band’s authenticity and rustic outfits, many critics are right in their assessment of Marcus Mumford’s actual tunes: They all sound pretty much the same. Nearly every one of the band’s tracks opens with a barely audible acoustic guitar, then Mumford’s grief-stricken voice softly chimes in, restrained piano and bass give way to a swelling crescendo, and it’s only a matter of time before a pounding kick drum drives a wailing chorus through layers of vocal harmonies atop banjo and the occasional horn or string arrangement.
His approach may not be especially creative, but it works. That formula was responsible for “Little Lion Man” and “The Cave,” the breakout singles on the band’s 2009 debut, Sigh No More, and, not surprisingly, it can also be heard in most of the tracks on Babel, Mumford & Sons’ sophomore release. With careful craftsmanship and impassioned delivery, the album feels like a continuation of its predecessor. Life-affirming anthems abound, linked by the more unassuming likes of “Ghosts That We Know,” the first song on the album not to break into stringed-instrument pandemonium. The menacing anger of “Broken Crown” is also notably refreshing, while closer “Not With Haste” recalls the earnest beauty of “Awake My Soul.”
The sonic familiarity is good news for fans, but there’s nothing new on Babel to convert the group’s critics. Well, at least until Mumford & Sons try swapping those vintage duds for some T-shirts.
Playlist picks “I Will Wait,” “Ghosts That We Knew,” “Broken Crown,” “Not With Haste”