Babel, the second release by the English folk quartet Mumford and Sons, is in its third week atop the Billboard Album chart. This surely makes their parents and accountants happy, but the fact that such luminaries as Matchbox Twenty, Linkin Park and the Zac Brown Band have recently held this spot demonstrates the diminished luster of this title. In an era of singles, playlists and short attention spans, the album is becoming a marginalized format. However, to sell more of them than anyone in the country is not insignificant, and for the week ending October 20, Mumford and Sons accomplished this.
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The band also recently appeared on Saturday Night Live, has been at or near the top of the bill at several prominent summer festivals and has regularly sold out shows across the country over the last couple years, including at the Pageant in June 2011. If Mumford and Sons were any hotter, Starbucks would sell them in liquid form. It seems like something more is brewing with this band, that it is developing a following of enthusiastic devotees that in time could blossom into a Phish-type entourage.
But does the music carpet match the hype drapes? I have listened to Babel several times and it is fine -- at times even good. Mumford and Sons play with great passion and intensity, and tell stories based on universal themes such as love and longing, faith and religion and the struggles and challenges of life. However, lead singer Marcus Mumford's growling half talking/half screaming/half singing grates on the listener's ears after several songs.
The band also falls into a repetitive structure of a tepid, contemplative opening slowly building to a rollicking crescendo of any stringed instruments it has on hand at the time. It starts to seem like you heard the same song several times when you play the album in its entirety. Folk or folk-rock doesn't typically fare well in the pop-dominated charts. Outside of the surprise success of the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack a decade ago, I would wager that the last time albums where the banjo is so prominent sold this well featured either John Denver or Kermit the Frog. So, what is it about Mumford and Sons that resonates with so many? I can offer up a few theories:
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