You thought the last haunting echoes of upbeat guitar strums and intermittent clapping that “Ho Hey” introduced had finally, finally, died down. But The Lumineers are back at it again with their newest release, Cleopatra. This album is starkly minimalist, with lead singer Wesley Schultz’s vocals accompanied only by quiet guitar plucks. Devoid of songs that are trying too hard to be upbeat (as seen in their self-titled first album), Cleopatra is unapologetically bittersweet and nostalgic: an ode to the past as much as it is hope for the future.
Despite not having crazy rhythms or interesting beats, this album is exciting in its bare honesty. Cleopatra opens with “Sleep On The Floor,” a ballad featuring Wesley Schultz singing fearlessly about leaving the place he calls home. “ ’Cause if we don’t leave this town / we might not never make it out” stands starkly against a steady, muted background. “Ophelia” holds the same austerity (the craziest thing this song puts out are wild piano solos). Yet, similar to “Sleep On The Floor,” “Ophelia” entraps listeners not with glitter or glamour, but with its barefaced humanity. The same concept is repeated in “Gun Song” and “Angela,” with both songs quiet yet powerful in the way they seem to offer listeners a window into something that’s incredibly private and tender. Wesley Schultz seems to be singing for nobody else but himself, and it comes through in the way that these songs are authentic, genuine and a lifeline to the very core of The Lumineers.
It’s in this way that The Lumineers’ improvement from their first album shines through. With songs like “Ho Hey” and “Stubborn Love,” there was very much an apparent desire to create songs that were popular, which caused many of them to come across as stiff and forced. However, four years can really make all the difference: Cleopatra showcases how centered and comfortable The Lumineers have gotten with their personal voice. The songs are more natural, intimate and Schultz’s voice has no hesitation as he sings about everything from lost loves to strained family relationships.
However, while this album does prove that The Lumineers can produce meaningful music, it still has its faults. While songs on Cleopatra are deeply intimate, they also can become repetitive as the album goes on. There was no variation, which meant that eight or nine songs in the 11-track album, things get a little dull. The familiarity established with the first couple of songs vanishes, the point of no return is hit and The Lumineers turns into one flat line of sad-boy guitar strums. For example, “Sick In The Head” is serene, beautiful, melodious and delicate. Yet, because of its place in the album as one of the final songs, its completely lost under the cover of uniformity. “My Eyes” is similar in the sense that it had the potential to be an enjoyable song, but its place in the album ruined that possibility. If The Lumineers had used the ending portion of Cleopatra to introduce a new sound to break the mold of melancholy, the album would have finished strong.
The genuine emotion this album introduces, despite its shortcomings, gives hope that The Lumineers have a voice with which they’re comfortable. Now that they’ve established a solid base, hopefully they can use the next albums they release to experiment and create music that pushes the boundaries of their sound. Altogether, Cleopatra is a solid album; one that not only establishes The Lumineers as a band who has found their voice but also builds anticipation for all the future music The Lumineers can produce.