The Lumineers take listeners on a journey with 'Cleopatra'

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On The Lumineers’ new album, Cleopatra, singer Wesley Schultz begins by telling his lover to “pack yourself a toothbrush, dear,” immediately setting the tone for the tracks that follow. The record is a journey, and this song is just the beginning.

With warm vocals and building instrumentation, the track “Sleep On The Floor” sets high expectations for that trip, but as the album progresses, the band misses a turn and gets lost trying to match the success of their self-titled 2012 debut instead of pushing themselves artistically.

The second song on the album, “Ophelia,” is its most energetic moment. The single is built around a fluttering piano riff with a chorus in the same vein as their singalong hit “Ho Hey,” making it a safe pick for the trio’s existing fan base. 

“Ophelia” is one of three songs named after a woman. The others, “Angela” and “Cleopatra,” complete a trio of the best songs on the album. The album’s namesake tune follows a first-person narrative, with Schultz singing from the perspective of an actress — not the historical Cleopatra — ready for love after a series of romantic letdowns. His masculine voice delivering a woman’s narrative makes the story all the more riveting, and it easily becomes one of the
record’s standouts. 

A warm and delicate ballad, “Angela” is one of the most captivating moments on Cleopatra. The soaring chorus plays well against the understated guitar strumming, and the song picks up as more instruments enter near the halfway point, when the simplicity gives way to a rowdier composition. 

“Angela” and “Gun Song,” which sees Schultz crooning over a steady snare before breaking out into an anthemic final chorus, are the last truly engaging tracks before the album hits a wall, becoming formulaic and losing the momentum it built in its first half. 

None of the album’s later songs are bad — most are actually beautifully written — but they all draw from the same somber sonic palette. When played back to back, they become repetitive, slowly lulling the listener to sleep. By the time “Sick In The Head”’s whisper-sung melody rolls around, it’s clear the band is more focused on avoiding the sophomore slump than developing new ideas or recapturing the playful energy of their debut’s “Flapper Girl” or the cheeky fun of
“Classy Girls.”

One exception is the pained “My Eyes,” during which Schultz sings with all the scorn of a man betrayed. Lines such as, “They fed you the lines (they fed you to lions) / You always confuse your servants for friends / But you couldn’t see how it ends / It’s all or nothing to you,” are sung over an enchanting piano arrangement, giving the album a bittersweet end. The instrumental track “Patience” picks up seamlessly where “My Eyes” leaves off, playing out with a piano track that would be well suited for a music box.

After taking four years to craft Cleopatra, the Grammy-nominated band leaves the listener with a cohesive, if underwhelming album. Though their approach may be more calculated than most Americana outfits, the record carries enough highlights, such as “Ophelia” and “Angela,” to make it worth a listen. Like any journey, the album also has its lows, but by Cleopatra’s end, it’s clear we can still expect great things from The Lumineers.

Cleopatra

  • Genre: Americana
  • Tracks: 11
  • Rating: 7.5