"Babel," the new Mumford & Sons album, was released this week to much anticipation. Word On Fire Research Assistant Jack Thornton reviews the album and discusses what it has to say about grace and redemption.
It’s hard to imagine any real problems or hardships that result from creating a critically acclaimed hit record that catapults a band from obscurity into immense popularity. One issue that certainly accompanies such success, however, is the question of how to adequately follow that album with other valuable records. When a debut album appears that everyone knows, most people like, and many love, there is a lot pressure on the musicians to produce a record that can live up to the quality of the previous one.
You can feel that pressure when listening to Mumford & Sons’ second record, "Babel." The London group’s debut, "Sigh No More," skyrocketed them to the forefront of the indie rock scene, and the folksy bluegrass style they used to get there only made them all the more appealing to the masses starving for quality music in an age where Auto-Tune and bubblegum party anthems rule the pop charts. Mumford & Sons stay within their comfort zone in "Babel," and reuse the formula that made their debut such a success: lyrics about love, grace and flaws, with a fair amount of religious and literary references thrown in, sung with throaty soul by singer-songwriter Marcus Mumford over a popping, bouncing medley of bass thumps, ferocious acoustic guitar strums and dancing banjos.
The group has taken some critical heat for essentially repeating the sound of "Sigh No More," and it’s easy to see why. "Babel" is a perfect example of the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality, and every track sounds like a slightly more polished version of hits from their debut. It would have been nice to see where these talented young men can go creatively, but ultimately Mumford & Sons didn’t need to drastically change their sound. They didn’t need to make their "Kid A" or their "Sgt. Pepper." Not yet. They’re a young band just discovering success, and their decision to take a little bit more time to hone their current sound is just fine — as long as the songs hold up. And they do. Even though the album isn’t groundbreaking or experimental — and perhaps not quite as good as some of the highlights from "Sigh No More" — the melodies are often lovely and always exciting...
Bruce Springsteen's latest album, "Wrecking Ball," is an instant classic, said Word on Fire Blog contributor Father Damian Ference. It's also a window into the Boss's Catholic past, displaying an uncanny familiarity with tenets, themes and traditions of the faith. Read on for a closer look.
An authentic Catholic worldview is one that does not blink, but has both eyes wide open to the fullness of the real world, in all its horror, beauty and mystery. It is a worldview that insists on the following. Mary is both Virgin and Mother, that Jesus is both God and man—without being more of one than the other. Faith and reason are not opposed, but live in harmony. We human beings are both sinners and saved, all at the same time. And death is life. The Catholic worldview holds two contrary positions together because to take one away would be to deny the fullness of the truth. We Catholics have a name for the position that denies the truth of one reality for the sake of the other—we call it heresy.
Bruce Springsteen, a lapsed Catholic with an undeniable Catholic worldview, released a new record earlier this month titled “Wrecking Ball.” Last week he was the keynote speaker at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas. At the tail end of his speech, his Catholic imagination took over as he addressed the audience of about two thousand up-and-coming musicians. Here’s what he said:
So rumble, young musicians, rumble. Open your ears and open your hearts. Don't take yourself too seriously, and take yourself as seriously as death itself. Don’t worry. Worry your ass off. Have unclad confidence, but doubt. It keeps you awake and alert. Believe you are the baddest ass in town—and you suck! It keeps you honest. Be able to keep two completely contradictory ideals alive and well inside of your heart and head at all times. If it doesn't drive you crazy, it will make you strong. And stay hard, stay hungry and stay alive. And when you walk on stage tonight to bring the noise, treat it like it's all we have—and then remember it's only rock 'n' roll.
Springsteen has a seasoned understanding of the Catholic both/and principle. He knows that the only way to really see the world as-it-is is to keep two contradictory truths alive and well inside of your heart and head at all times. (Philosophically speaking, these truths are actually contrary, notcontradictory—but let’s not get picky.) Without this both/and vision, a listener will easily fall into the trap of thinking Springsteen is frustrated, angry and depressed, or that he is commendably filled with faith and hope. The truth about Springsteen, and specifically on his latest album “Wrecking Ball,” is this—he’s both...