About four years ago if you recall there was a big folk revival that took place. This was of course made possible by the previous folk revival around the turn of the millennium when the success of the soundtrack for the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, as it took home a Grammy and gave way to the rise of other folk acts like Emmylou Harris and Old Crow Medicine Show. The latter group is what inspired one of two bands that were central to the 2012 folk revival, Mumford & Sons. The other band at the center of this revival was The Lumineers. Many of you probably know them from their smash hit “Ho Hey,” which alongside Mumford & Sons’ “I Will Wait” captured people’s attentions everywhere. Fast forward to today and now Mumford & Sons have abandoned their banjo and went electric, something that really didn’t surprise people. But The Lumineers certainly haven’t abandoned the sound that caught everyone’s attention. And they show no signs of stopping either.
The Lumineers are made up of founding members Wesley Schultz (vocals, guitar) and Jeremiah Fraites (drums, piano), along with Neyla Pekarek (cellist, backing vocalist) who joined the band in 2010. Schultz and Fraites write all of the songs on their albums. And now four years after their successful self-titled album, they return with their sophomore followup, Cleopatra. Before you listen to the album there’s one quote you should remember when you listen to it and that comes from Schultz, who said this regarding it, “We want to focus on the core, not the illusion.” Trust me once you hear the album, you’ll understand.
Cleopatra begins with “Sleep on the Floor,” an adventurous song where a man urges his woman to pick up her stuff and travel the country with him. The Lumineers’ usual roots-y, folk rock, guitar-driven sound makes the song catchy and easy to enjoy. The whole album doesn’t really stray at all from this sound. The album’s lead single “Ophelia” follows. It’s a reflective, somewhat upbeat song about a woman who was once in the man’s life. Well on the surface it’s seem like, as on their site The Lumineers say it “personifies fame as a dangerous temptress.” The piano play by Fraites is great and really drives the song well. The album title track tells the story of a woman who has experienced tragedy in her life. Most notably it deals with how she was too late for the love of her life, letting life pull her away from someone she loved and wanted to marry. The inspiration for the song came from a woman Schultz met in the Republic of Georgia. She’s a cab driver who told her tragic life story to him. It inspired the group to write this song and make it their album’s name. The story and lyrics are so tragically beautiful, really personifying the whole album.
“Gun Song” is about a man discovering his father’s pistol after he died, unaware his father owned a pistol. The man himself doesn’t own a single gun, so it comes as a surprise to him. He then reflects on his life and hopes to be more than his father’s son someday. One of my favorites on Cleopatra is “Angela.” It’s a soft tale of a woman who left her small town to pursue bigger things, but now returns to it. This is despite the people in the town who like to sing her praises only to cut her down. But she returns to a man she loves, a place she can call home. It’s a story about finding what truly makes you happy. The instrumentation fits perfectly with the story, with its earthy, somewhat soaring tone.
This is followed by another beautiful song, “In The Light.” It’s about two people who can’t let go of the old memories of being together. They can’t stop thinking about each other until finally they meet again and they embrace, telling each other to never let go again. The acoustics and piano really blend together well and help tell this love story. “Gale Song” was part of the soundtrack for the movie, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and shows up again here. It’s apparently told from the point of view from a character in the movie named Gale. I’ve heard plenty about the books and movies for this series, but have never read or watched any of them. So it’s really hard to have some thoughts on this one. It does seem to fit the overall theme of the album, which is dealing with love and loneliness.
The rawest, emotional song on the album is hands-down “Long Way From Home.” It’s a sad story about a man who shares a hospital room with a man dying of a disease, probably cancer. He hopes the man can find his way home (die peacefully) soon. This happens, but not before the last words he hears from the man are moans for “more morphine.” It’s a haunting song to say the least. The eerie sounding “Sick in the Head” is next and it’s probably one of the more confusing songs on the album. It seems to be about seizing your own life and not letting others’ opinions control it. The song is quite short and as I said the theme isn’t that clear.
The waltzing “My Eyes” tells the old story of watching someone you care for make mistakes before your very eyes. You’re angry to see them get take advantage of, yet you feel betrayed they wouldn’t listen to you. It also ties into one of the main themes of the album of avoiding the corruption that fame can bring to a person. This is probably the most complete song on Cleopatra, as everything just works perfectly together. The instrumental “Patience” brings the album to a close. While an odd choice to end the album with this type of song, it makes a lot of sense after hearing the entire thing a few times because listening to this album is tiring. “Patience” allows your brain to unwind and to digest what you’ve just heard on the first ten songs.
Overall Cleopatra is a mentally exhausting album after you give it a really good listen, but it will reward you for the troubles. The themes explored throughout are complex and will send your thoughts reeling after hearing them. It’s definitely not the type of album you can pick up and immediately “get it.” One thing though that helps you digest these lyrics is the catchy instrumentation that is present mostly throughout. It’s really easy to get sucked into the album based just on the instrumentation, as it’s light and flawless. The piano play really flourishes when it shows up. The instrumentation draws you in and makes you stay, but the lyrics make you appreciate it even more. The Lumineers prove with this album that they’re here to stay and they’re more than some brief folk revival. They’re a band worthy of your attention and if you listen to Cleopatra, you will be rewarded.