If ever a band were at risk of Difficult Second Album Syndrome, it is Mumford & Sons.
Having seen their debut, 2009's Sigh No More, sell more than a million copies in both Britain and America, reaching number two in both countries, the west London indie-folk rockers must have felt under extraordinary pressure while shaping this follow-up.
They have avoided any crashing disappointment by essentially rehashing the formula of their debut: carefully crafting spindly yet spirited indie-rock anthems, augmented by traditional folk mannerisms that can feel cynically grafted-on.
There is no doubt they know their chops, and two years spent touring the world's arenas and festivals have honed their already slick musicianship to new heights. It’s hard to listen to plaintive tracks such as Holland Road and Lovers' Eyes and not admire their keening efficiency.
Nevertheless, they still sound too sanitised, too calculated. Where is the heart, the spontaneity? As meticulous and yet inconsequential tracks such as I Will Wait and Reminder wash over you, as smart as they are shallow, the nagging thought recurs that Mumford & Sons are a folk band for people who don’t like folk music.
Luckily for them, there are plenty of those – and they will buy Babel in their millions.