Album Review: Cleopatra by The Lumineers

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Image courtesy of BBC News

The Lumineers are a rock/folk band from Denver, Colorado who released their sophomore LP last week in the form of Cleopatra. This album is following up their incredibly successful debut and self-titled LP The Lumineers, released in 2012 and peaking at number 2 on the Billboard Album Charts. It was certified platinum in Ireland and in the US, whilst also reaching gold in the UK, Australia and Canada. They certainly had big shoes to fill when announcing that the writing process for this album had begun back in September of 2014.

I had the opportunity to see The Lumineers perform a sweetly polished mini-set consisting solely of songs from their new album at an intimate in-store show at a Manchester HMV. The band produced an immense sound consisting of a stripped back instrumental arrangement of a guitar, piano, bass drum and stand-up bass. Despite playing a larger show the night before and stating that they were all feeling a bit under the weather, they created a comfortable and silky smooth atmosphere whilst they unveiled some of the best songs from Cleopatra. Their fans were also treated to a brief signing after the show where they were able to speak directly to the members of the band. These types of in-store shows have become commonplace in the last couple of years, with typically indie bands putting on small (and more often than not acoustic) sets followed by a signing of their new album – I believe that these are fantastic opportunities for young people to connect with popular bands’ new music alongside fellow fans and enthusiasts.

Similar to their last album, the sound of Cleopatra is warmly melodic. It still incorporates many elements of old school folk elements whilst continuing to produce riffs and licks that are both rock-oriented and greatly focused on the use of near-deafening bass drum beats and snappy hi-hat. Songs early on in the LP (such as the female-centric ‘Ophelia’, ‘Cleopatra’ and ‘Angela’) are raspy, multi-instrumental and story-driven songs, the lyrics of which lead you to feel a close connection to the characters that they encompass. The lyrics from the title track ‘Cleopatra’ are a great example of this: “And it hardened like my heart did when you left town, / but I must admit it; that I would marry you in an instant. / Damn your wife, I’d be your mistress / just to have you around.” These tracks are solid, fun and produce moments where you are obliged to nod your head and appreciate the subtle piano sequences and slick guitar riffs. The female-centric songs on the album are much more heartfelt than the others, drawing you into having a much more intimate experience – they do not make you feel like you are the passenger and have no real choice as to the direction or interpretation of the song.

It would be foolish to suggest, however, that there are no songs on the album that lead you to have a better understanding of what is circling the artists’ minds and that they all only seem to paint pictures of untouchable characters with stories that are relatable, yet entirely out of one’s grasp. On the contrary: the track ‘Gun Song’ depicts the relationship between Wesley Shultz and his emotions that lead him to feeling unfulfilled, as he wishes to become his own man who no longer lives within his father’s shadow. This feeling of insignificance is one that I’m sure many listeners can relate to and is one that permeates brilliantly throughout the entire song.

However, it is in the second half of the album where the problems begin to arise. They certainly packed quite the punch with the first half, as it seems to be one great song after the next, though once these melted away I discovered they had not kept any sort of ace up their sleeve; in four years they had only managed to string together a mere 34 minutes of new material. This could have been a recipe for something fantastic, as great folk-rock bands such as Simon and Garfunkel managed to create greatness with a measly 33-minute album in Sounds of Silence, but the second half of the album totally lacks any variation. Though it steps away from the bouncy, jovial tunes of ‘Ophelia’ and ‘Cleopatra’, the sombre and somewhat stripped back approach leaves very little to the imagination and does not produce or provoke anything other than easy listening.

Songs like ‘In The Light’ and ‘Gale Song’ are strikingly similar and are carried through by the simplistic guitar plucking that they began with. Though pleasant to listen to and, in turn, completely inoffensive, they reek of the kind of sounds that we have been hearing for years, with the emergence of painstakingly bland groups like Mumford and Sons. It seems that, rather than this record being one you could listen to on a quiet Friday night in, Cleopatra would have to be an album that you might find in your Auntie’s glovebox, discarded and devalued due to its sheer monotony. In the event of such a collapse of innovation it desperately needed revival in the final couple of tracks, but all we are presented with is the dreary piano instrumental ‘Patience’ which – in all honesty – pinpoints my exact personal virtue that was tested by the latter half of this record.

Overall: Cleopatra does very little to offend, whilst also doing very little to excite. Though the start of the album is particularly strong and has songs that are certainly enjoyable and moderately thought-provoking, the second half absolutely lets it down. The endless finger picking and odd harmony leaves nothing up to the imagination, whilst the prosaic sound that they produce does not break down any figurative walls in music. This is an album I am sure devoted fans of The Lumineers will somewhat enjoy, though I am not so sure about newcomers who are perhaps trying to find something new within an already dry genre.

4/10