It’s fitting that the Mumford & Sons have titled their new album Babel, a Biblical reference to man’s attempt to build a structure to reach the heavens. In just three short years, Mumford and Sons have gone from a quaint roots-rock group from London to one of the biggest new bands on the planet with 2011′s Sigh No More, and their follow-up attempts to match that ambition by outdoing that album’s already sprawling, epic roots-rock tunes. The disc is loaded with more big, important, grab-you-by-the-collar anthems like the title cut and “Whispers in the Dark,” which are heightened this time around by the addition of bold horns and sweeping strings. There’s no doubt that Mumford and Sons have the gift of crafting arena-ready anthems like they’re U2 Unplugged, but after a half-dozen attempts on Babel, that emotional, gut-punching impact loses its visceral force.
Singer-guitarist-lyricist-sometimes-drummer Marcus Mumford also has an almost annoying fixation with the past: His band even toured via vintage railcar for their Railroad Revival Tour last year. But thanks to his gentlemanly disposition and his gravelly baritone, his sepia-toned narratives of sin and redemption (“Ghosts That We Knew”) come off as genuinely quaint and convincing. That tack works best when his band tones down the noise to let his thoughts ring through. As the Tower of Babel allegory warns, sometimes it’s better to scale things back.