The difficult second album is an old cliché, but ask The XX or Mumford & Sons and they will probably agree that it exists. How do you compete with the hype generated by a debut globally and passionately loved by the public and critics alike? Do you repeat the unique formula and hope that you still sound fresh, or go in a different direction and hope that you haven’t lost your touch? Both bands have eagerly awaited albums out this month after emerging from nowhere with well-loved debuts in 2009, and both have clearly done the former.
In the case of Mumford & Sons, according to Ben Lovett, there was a realisation that ‘‘people dig what we’re doing’’ and that there was a need to ‘‘make something robust, with that energy’’. This time the band have made it clear that they wanted an album which reflects their energetic live performances, and it is the more anthemic songs in which they excel. The album is full of the rousing, foot stomping anthems in the vein of ‘The Cave’ which has made them a live favourite. Listen to lead single ‘I Will Wait’ or ‘Broken Crown’ for proof and you’ll remember why they became so popular. Its Babel’s quieter moments that tend to lag. There is nothing to match the more introverted strength of ‘White Blank Page’, and it is in the various quieter ballads that the album threatens to sound like a tired carbon copy of their debut. However, there are some truly brilliant songs on here and fans of the debut will definitely not be disappointed by this second effort.
The XX on the other hand, have made an album which also uses the same winning formula as their debut with great success. When you have a sound as perfectly crafted as The XX, it is easy to understand the reluctance to branch out and luckily here, whilst nothing has really changed since their debut, Coexist still has the same freshness and beauty without sounding tired at all. If anything, it is possible to hear a development in the band’s technical and lyrical ability which makes Coexist sound like a platform for the band to fully unleash the potential that they showed in their debut. Easily one of 2012’s best.