But, here's the thing.
Three years have gone by and Babel comes off less like a collection of new ideas and more like a collection of songs that didn't make it onto Sigh No More. Though these songs were, verifiably, written over the course of the past three years (Marcus Mumford & co. have been unveiling them at live shows, slowly letting the newer material leak out and be processed by their eager fanbase), the disc presents more of a lateral move for the band. While holding fast to their strong and impressive soundscape, the group delivers songs which just repeat what they did the first time around. Simply put, it's a safe and obvious record from a band whose greatest appeal is their daring.
There are times when "more of the same" comes off as refreshing and wonderful and times when it feels a little disappointing. Whether because so many likeminded bands have emerged in the years since Sigh No More dropped, doing their best to ride on those glorious Mumford coattails, or whether the disc's title packs a wallop of literary allusion (promising something much deeper), the album comes off a bit samey.
The strongest moment comes at Track 5. "Ghosts That We Knew" (purchase/download) is a moment of rare delicacy and nuance, a love song with a melody like old time Appalachia. The harmonies and additional instrumentation is used sparingly and only when necessary. There's no gratuitous noise or angsty overuse of instruments, which seems to creep up now and then on this disc.
The deluxe edition includes three incredibly strong songs (one is a cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer" with Simon and Jerry Douglas) which portray a decidedly more mature and deliberate future direction for the group. The inclusion of these "bonus" songs only highlights the awareness that this band is capable of much more than what's offered on the rest of the disc. Don't get me wrong - Babel is still a solid and fiercely honest statement - better than so much of what else is available; it just falls short of the band's promise and the incredible artistry they seem to be keeping under wraps...at least for now.