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Album Review: The Lumineers – Cleopatra
Not all of the hit songs The Lumineers wrote in the late 2000’s made the cut for their self titled debut in 2012. As of two Friday’s ago those songs have been officially released on album number two, Cleopatra. There’s a pitchy, live version of Sleep On The Floor online, as well as a 2010 live performance of Gun Song. And while in its entirety I believe that the debut self-titled album is a little stronger, Cleopatra is far from a sophomore slump.
On January 13th this past year, The Lumineers posted a fifteen second video clip of themselves recording in the studio. Someone commented on the post, “You may as well lick the tip and never touch it after that,” and rightfully so because the only musical elements in this clip are foot stomps. No guitars, no vocals, just the band being the Colorado-via-New Jersey authentic folkies. Unbeknownst to fans at the time, this was their first taste of the title track of the new album Cleopatra.
The album begins with lead singer/guitarist Wesley Shultz piercing the first electric chord of Sleep On The Floor. Although this album may have more electric songs than the first album, The Lumineers have a raw, inimitable grasp on songwriting that allows them to captivate and inspire even if they song they’re singing doesn’t have the most uplifting or happy beat. The harmony on the line “forget what Father Brennan said” is the most memorable vocal chemistry of the entire album.
Ophelia, the first single that was released for this album definitely gained a lot of attention and excitement. The dancing, triplet piano notes on this song present the signature, catchy Lumineers sound and this type of musical consistency is what keeps fans supporting their favorite artists and bands for multiple albums. While it’s obvious that this is the most immediate radio hit from the whole album, it’s not as strong as the viral effect that occurred with Ho Hey from the first album.
Track number three, Cleopatra, is definitely one of the stronger songs on the album. The title track begins with a faster tempo than the previous two songs so listeners can expect a special type of energy build up for this song. Wes opens the song with the vivid and enchanting line “I was Cleopatra, I was young and an actress when you knelt by my mattress and asked for my hand.”
Gun Song is the first of a few songs that aren’t so memorable. Maybe because I’ve heard the song many times in the past few years, discovering it while surfing around for new Lumineers songs, it’s hard for me to connect with the fresh new studio track because I’ve outplayed the raw, older acoustic versions. The persistent, snare drum beat mirrors the gun theme and during the bridge Wesley powers it home with raging vocal belting.
Angela is by far the most memorable and my favorite song on Cleopatra. Sometimes the more simple a song is, the easier it is for listeners to connect and attach to the work. With a three chord progression throughout the whole song, the standard songwriting structure is complete with verses, a pre-chorus, chorus and bridge. Not only is Angela my favorite song on the album but it also contains my favorite lyric. Out of context it may not seem so remarkable but with the way the rhyme scheme follows through in the song I always have a brain frying moment when Wes sings in the beginning of the second verse, “Were you safe and warm with your coat of arms and your fingers in the fist.” Something about that phrase as the transition back into the verse works so perfectly and proves Wesley Schultz to be a lyrical genius.
In the iTunes description of the self-titled Lumineers debut album, the writer explains, “Two immensely catchy singles, ‘Ho Hey’ and ‘Stubborn Love,’ got The Lumineers noticed, but the album gets its staying power from subtler tunes like ‘Slow It Down.’” While it’s hard to match that intimate, dark-room-only-lit-by-a-single-candle Slow It Down vibe, Gale Song and Everyone Requires A Plan are two songs on Cleopatra that provide a massive jolt to the subtle, low energy, hauntingly beautiful Lumineers style. As another draft of a previously released acoustic studio song that was featured in The Hunger Games soundtrack, Gale Song electric on this album is amplified not only in sound but a subtle slowdown in the bridge, compared to the acoustic version, makes the ending climax of the song even more dramatic and fascinating.
Everyone Requires A Plan is a golden surprise for the deluxe edition purchasers and it will make you question why it’s released as a bonus track and not in the initial batch of songs. Wesley’s tender voice shines on this song especially because of the quiet, melancholy mood of the song. Sometimes all it takes to get blown away is one voice and one instrument, and that is exactly the case for Everyone Requires A Plan. And just as the attitude that the bright, staccato, jumpy keyboard riff of the piano instrumental track Patience instills in listeners, maybe the band decided to make the final track a warning of an even more nerve-racking and possibly longer year gap until album number three.
Scott J. Herman