How fast can you pluck a banjo? Mumford & Sons can pluck pretty fast. To prove it, they released an entire album of plucking in 2009 called Sigh No More. But there are still non-believers out there, so they’ve done it again with Babel to eradicate any doubt. It’s not just banjo-tickling either – mandolins, cellos, even a dobro get the same treatment. After all, it’s this folky formula that scored the west Londoners their Brit Award-winning, Mercury Prize-nominated debut LP, which went platinum four times over in the UK alone.
Considering they started out as alt folk darling Laura Marling’s backing band, Marcus Mumford and his lot haven’t half done well for themselves, yet it still seems like they have something to prove. Yes, Babel matches the deftness of their first offering – there are poignant tales of love (‘I Will Wait’), foot-stompers (‘Babel’) and brittle acoustic cuts (‘Reminder’) – but is it refreshing enough to excite? Not really. The four-piece have been trying hard to establish a new sound, splitting Babel’s recording over four studios, and utilising a ‘tensong’ method, whereby each band member wrote ten tracks in a short amount of time to see what came out.
The results, however, are prosaic. Apart from stand-out track ‘Broken Crown’ – which Marcus’s affecting, grizzly strain turns beautifully menacing – this is a carbon-copy of Sigh…, and no amount of speedy string-diddling is going to change that.