For nearly four years, The Lumineers’ fans have been listening to the same album—the band’s self-titled debut, featuring successful singles “Ho Hey” and “Stubborn Love.” With the band on a world tour and no sign of new music, many resigned themselves to believing that the band would be another failed attempt at a folk-rock crossover, similar to Sheppard or American Authors. With its sophomore release Cleopatra, however, The Lumineers have proven that they will continue to fill the niche carved out for hauntingly honest songwriters on the bestseller charts.
With Cleopatra, the band trades in what frontman Wesley Schultz described as the “innocent demo feeling” of its first album for a fuller, heavier sound. Rather than writing catchy acoustic songs, the group layers gritty cowboy chords with echoing percussion, piano, and cello for simple, yet gripping, melodies. Beyond the matured sound of the album, the band also elects to change the content of its songs. The Lumineers is filled with relatable but trite breakup songs—lyrical quality was sacrificed in the effort to write catchy hooks. In its sophomore effort, the group widens its scope to recount personal experiences and encounters with people they found particularly remarkable. There is romance to the album, but it is found in subtler, fascinating paths.
While Cleopatra doesn’t present any apparent hits like “Ho Hey,” there are multiple standout tracks whose reach will surely extend beyond the album. Single “Ophelia” has already achieved moderate success, dominating alternative radio since its release in February. Ragtime piano partnered with a bubbly hook echoes back to The Lumineers’ first album and will appease fans hoping for more of the same content. The track even seems to follow the same love story theme of The Lumineers’ older music, but is in fact a criticism of falling in love with fame. After being thrown into the spotlight with “Ho Hey” peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, booking an SNL performance, and performing a world tour, Schultz can certainly be considered an authority on the subject of fame.
Following “Ophelia” on the LP is the title track “Cleopatra,” arguably the best track on the album. The song recounts, from a female’s perspective, the story of a taxi driver who refuses to settle down, and the chaos of her life. In an interview with the Denver Post, Schultz confessed that the character was not his own—his wife had encountered a taxi driver who fell in love at 16 and never responded to her suitor’s proposal. When he gave up on their love and left town, she left his footprints untouched on her floor, an aspect of the story hearkened to in the song’s lines, “and I left the footprints, the mud stained on the carpet / and it hardened like my heart did when you left town.” The escalating percussion and piano in the song give it the feel of a barroom stomper, making it feel as though the listener is hearing the story directly from Schultz at the back table of his favorite tavern.
Other standouts include the album’s third single, “Angela,” disturbing “Gun Song,” and wispy “Gale Song.” “Angela” is another example of The Lumineers’ new tendency toward slowly escalating tracks, beginning as a quiet, folksy ballad and ending as an expansive pop crossover. “Gun Song,” like “Cleopatra,” is most notable for its story—Schultz describes finding a “Smith & Wesson” pistol in his father’s drawer as a child and the accompanying confusion. “Gale Song” comes straight from another era of American history, feeling as though it comes straight from the mouth of a life-worn, heartbroken cowboy.
Of course, not all of Cleopatra’s tracks shine. “In The Light” builds to a grand finale of nothing, leaving the listener dissatisfied and bored. Closing track “Patience” is an interesting disruption to the flow of the album, as it is simply a minute of piano playing. While the piece is beautiful, the highlights of Cleopatra are the stories it tells, conveyed through its cinematic lyrics—a facet missing from “Patience.”
The album is decidedly short and sweet, clocking in at around 35 minutes of play. Yet within this short period of time, The Lumineers have proved that they are more than just a flash in the pan of folk music. While Cleopatra may not earn them the success in the Top 40 that their first album provided, the band has already sold out over half of the locations on its upcoming world tour and does not need the validation of Ryan Seacrest announcing its singles on the radio. The 35 minutes of music on Cleopatra is beautifully crafted, and arguably not enough—Lumineers fans will be happy to listen for hours.
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